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Making the Most of Patient Complaints

Practice mangers wear many hats, from overseeing daily operational activities to optimizing revenues. For many practice managers, handling patient complaints is a least favorite part of the job. But consider this: In most cases, a patient will not leave the practice due to a complaint—he or she will leave because of the way the complaint was handled.

Embrace Complaints

An effective practice manager creates a culture that values complaints as a means of strengthening the practice and improving patient relations. In other words, you should great complaints as opportunities, rather than liabilities.

An effective complaint-handling system should embrace the principles of fairness, accessibility, responsiveness, efficiency, and integration (effectively adopting new protocols, etc.). One simple model to consider when handling complaints is LAST:

  • Listen to the patient
  • Apologize for not meeting his or her expectations
  • Service them
  • Thank them

Leaders or employees handling complaints must be skilled and professional, at all times. No exceptions. It is extremely important to remain calm and de-escalate these types of situations, especially when dealing with an irate patient. If the patient is complaining in the waiting room, attempts should be made to move them to a private office so as not to disturb other patients.

Tracking Helps to Isolate Problem Areas

Always track patient complaints. You may be surprised to find patterns, such as complaints consistently directed toward or stemming from the same:

  • provider
  • employee(s)
  • situation (not getting results, orders, prescriptions)
  • time of day
  • day of the week

Information about complaints should be examined as part of a continuous process of organizational review and improvement. The longer a trend continues, the more difficult it becomes to hold those responsible, accountable. Tracking allows you to identify and correct potential problem areas early. Unfortunately, many leaders wait until they have an influx of complaints and it may be too late to perform recovery. The rule of thumb should be, if more than one person has complained about the same issue, a review of the process is needed.

Build Success by Preparing for the Occasional Failure

How you handle complaints relates directly to patient outcomes. Patients are becoming more educated, and they know how competitive healthcare has become. Having a process in place for handling complaints reassures patients that the practice is committed to resolving problems and improving processes, which builds loyalty and the efficiency of your practice.

Tags: Practice Management