Basic Steps to Handle a Patient’s Complaint With Your Physician Medical Practice

The saying “The customer is always right” holds true in medical practice, too. Just substitute the word “patient” for “customer.” With this in mind, your number-one concern and customer-service goal should be problem solving to meet the patient’s needs. Here are 10 steps to take whenever you or a staff member encounters a patient with a complaint.

Listen without interruption. Instruct staff to hear out the patient before responding.

Don’t get defensive. Remind employees that in most cases, an irate patient is unhappy with the situation, not with the person to whom he or she is complaining. This means the staff member needs to keep his or her emotions in check and remember not to take the complaints personally.

Apologize. An apology goes a long way toward defusing a situation. The employee doesn’t need to admit any wrongdoing to apologize. Instead, he or she can say, “Mr. Jones, I’m really sorry your expectations weren’t met today.”

Express empathy. Tell the patient you would feel the same way in a similar situation. This can help calm the patient and defuse the situation.

Ask questions to clarify. Instruct the employee to repeat the patient’s concern in the form of a question. For example, “Mr. Jones, are you saying that you’re concerned about coming here next week for another 10 a.m. appointment when you had an appointment scheduled for that time today and weren’t seen until 11:15?”

Find out what the customer wants. The employee can’t help solve the problem unless he or she knows the response the patient is looking for. The only way to find out is to ask the patient directly. “Mr. Jones, please tell me how we can resolve this situation to your satisfaction.”

Explain what you can do. Often, the automatic response is to say, “No, I can’t do that.” Instead, focus on the positive, telling the patient what you can do. For example, “Mr. Jones, if you call our office before leaving for your next appointment, the receptionist will gladly tell you whether Dr. Smith is on schedule so you can adjust your arrival time accordingly.”

Take notes and maintain a record. Instruct staff to write brief descriptions of any patient problems they encounter. Keep the note in the patient’s medical record.

Take action. If an employee promises action on the patient’s behalf, that person is responsible for seeing that it takes place, even if the actual task falls within another employee’s job description. When that happens, instruct the staffer to ask the other staff member to do the job or offer to do it himself.

Follow up. The staffer who first fields a concern should always make sure the patient’s needs are ultimately met.

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