Meeting Unmet Expectations: Dealing with Patient Complaints

Meeting Unmet Expectations: Dealing with Patient Complaints


Your Medical Practice’s success depends ultimately on one very important thing: The way you treat your customers. Perhaps, the most critical point for your success to shine comes in how you treat your customers when they make a complaint. There are a variety of reasons one of your patients may make a complaint. Maybe they’re unhappy with the cost of the visit. Maybe their prescription did not get faxed to the correct pharmacy. They may not agree with the plan of treatment they have been given. No matter what the complaint is, each complaint can be canopied under: “Unmet Expectations.”


Rule of Expectations

As the clinical coordinator for HealthCARE Express, I often start my mornings by reading a quote from Nelson Boswell. “Here is a simple but powerful rule – always give people more than what they expect to get.” It is with that philosophy I eagerly work to resolve patient complaints that may come in throughout the day. I have worked in the Medical Practice setting for several years, and I worked in a hospital for many years before that. Anytime I have had to deal with complaints it has always boiled down to the customers not feeling things measured up to what they were expecting before they walked in for service.


Simple Step-By-Step Solutions

Sometimes there is a simple fix for the problem. In fact, most of the time all a patient wants to know is that someone is listening and is concerned about why they feel their experience was not up to par. They are looking for a sympathetic ear. Part of that sympathy, of course, is being able to offer a solution or an explanation for why something went wrong.


Step 1: Listen

Before you can offer the solution, you have to listen. When someone is really angry, human nature kicks in and tells you to interrupt and try to offer the solution right away. Resist that temptation. The first thing you should do when a patient comes to you with a complaint is listen to their whole story. Be their venting board.


Step 2: Apologize

After you hear the story, you should apologize for not meeting their expectations. This is often all it takes to change their mood and make them a repeat customer who recommends your clinic to family and friends.


Step 3: Reevaluate

Training If the reason for their complaint was due to an error on the part of your staff, figure out how to correct that issue quickly. Assure the customer you have training in place to fix the problem and apologize the incident occurred. Then make sure the team members who need additional training are trained. The last thing you need to happen is for a patient to give you a second chance, only to be met with the same problems again. When you give your word to a patient that you are going to correct a problem, get it corrected.


In-Clinic Complaints

If you are lucky, most complaints about your Medical Practice will never leave the clinic. When a patient has a complaint during their visit, make sure you take them somewhere private to discuss it. Not only does this lessen a scene in the middle of your clinic, it also allows you to give your undivided attention to the patient. Always ask the patient, “What can I do?” These four powerful words let the patient know you value their opinion and their input. It allows the patient to be part of the resolution to the problem. Remind the patient you can’t fix a problem you don’t know exists, and thank them for bringing the problem to your attention. Most requests from a customer for a solution to their problem will be reasonable. If a patient asks for something outside of our authority to authorize, contact someone who can make the appropriate decision. Make sure you keep the patient informed about who you are contacting, why you’re contacting them, and what steps will follow.


Strive for Happy Endings

Obviously the goal of addressing complaints with your customers is to make them happy. But realize you will not be able to make everyone happy. Nonetheless, you should always genuinely try to satisfy or meet the customer’s expectation. Studies show that a satisfied customer will tell 2-3 people about his experience with your Medical Practice. A dissatisfied patient will share their disdain with 8-10 people, and some will push that number to 20. Just remember a golden opportunity lies with an unhappy customer. Unhappy customers will become loyal consumers if you fix their complaints quickly. Eighty percent will come back to you if you've treated them fairly. That percentage rises to the upper 90s if you respond immediately. Every day you have the chance to transform your mistakes into returning customers - the kind who will tell other people good things about you. Remember, a smile goes farther than anything. When you mix it with a sincere apology, it’s unbeatable.