Turning patient complaints into learning opportunities

By Teresa Duncan, DrBicuspid.com contributing writer

June 7, 2016 -- As dentists and dental team members, you are in the people business and with that comes many different personalities and emotions. It's hard to accept but you will never make everybody happy all of the time. Regardless of how organized your practice is and how highly skilled you and your team are, complaints will arise from time to time.

The first one is the worst. It stings and you will most likely take it personally. You may have had the best interest of the patient in mind, but sometimes expectations do not align. It's important to keep in mind that most complaints are not personal. Bad days happen and, unfortunately, it can affect someone's perception of the customer service you've provided.

Teresa Duncan
Teresa Duncan is an international speaker who focuses on revenue, dental insurance, and management issues.

We've found that the majority of complaints revolve around the following:

  • Patients being caught unaware of fees before treatment.
  • The doctor or hygienist not running on schedule.
  • Patients feeling rushed through their appointment.

When the complaint is lodged, your first task is to take a deep breath! Remain calm and remember that there are two sides to every story. They may not both be reasonable sides, but you have to listen.

Patient want to know that their complaint has been received and that you are grateful the matter has been brought to your attention. They also want to know that you plan to address it once you have all the information.

After your deep breath, then apologize to the patient even though you may not be the person who was involved in the situation. Ask the patient what can be done to correct the issue. Use phrases such as "I understand how your feel," "I appreciate your position," and "I'm sorry that there was a misunderstanding." You are not promising a resolution in the patient's favor, rather you are acknowledging the issue and promising to look into it.

Next, call a meeting with the relevant employee or employees and obtain their side of the story. Experience will show you that you should not automatically assume that the employee is in the wrong and the patient is always right. Believe it or not, sometimes (maybe even often) patients can be unreasonable and the complaints unwarranted.

Solutions for both sides

After you've heard from both sides, contact the patient and let the individual know you truly appreciate the feedback and offer an appropriate solution. Don't automatically refund the patient's money or offer a discount on future treatment, as that gives them the impression that all the patient has to do is complain to obtain services for free.

Here is a response to a delayed appointment: "Our schedule usually runs on time, but unfortunately we were not on time for you. We'll flag your next appointment so that we're absolutely ready on time and you won't be delayed. We're also going to discuss this as a team to guard against it happening again."

After you've made the resolution offer, check back to make sure the patient is satisfied.

Now, if you find out that the patient is truly wrong, do not throw it back in your patient's face -- although you'll be tempted to do just that. It will cause anger and ignite the situation. No matter what, your practice will be the party held in the negative light. Regardless of whether the patient is right or wrong, our goal is to ensure that he or she feels heard.

“Patient complaints should actually be looked at like a gift.”

Documentation plays a role in providing excellent customer service. Features such as recorded telephone calls allow you to hear both sides of the conversation. Ordinarily, you would only hear the employee's side of the conversation and only if you just happened to be standing close by. A recorded call allows you to hear both sides of the conversation, which gives you a better understanding of what transpired. The call recordings can then be used as training opportunities for your team. Please check with your state laws before implementing call recording. It may be restricted or not legal in your state.

Patient complaints should actually be looked at like a gift. The patient has given you information that may not have been brought to light otherwise. Don't go changing any office policies based on one patient's complaint. A better use is to take this situation and turn it into a training opportunity during your next team meeting, so that all employees are aware of their expected behavior and outcomes. Move forward and grow from the experience. How you handle the situation will speak volumes about your leadership skills and your relationship with both your team members and your patients.

Teresa Duncan is an international speaker who focuses on revenue, dental insurance, and management issues. For more information or to contact her, visit her Odyssey Management website.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

Copyright © 2016 DrBicuspid.com

To read this and get access to all of the exclusive content on DrBicuspid.com create a free account or sign-in now.

Member Sign In:
MemberID or email address:  
Do you have a DrBicuspid.com password?
No, I want a free membership.
Yes, I have a password:  
Forgot your password?
Sign in using your social networking account:
Sign in using your social networking