You never want to disappoint a patient, although at some point you won’t meet their expectation for one reason or another. It may be a flaw in your systems, or it may be the patient’s perception of the situation.
When patients feel that you haven’t delivered what they expected, it is important to manage your response for the best outcome. A positive turn around can occur from a perceived or real negative experience, depending on how it is received and acted upon.
We spend 80% of our energy on 20% of our patients, we need to ensure that the other 80% of our patients enjoy their experience as well.
The following steps can be shared with your team. These will help diffuse and hopefully solve potential conflicts:
- When the complaint comes in, resist the temptation to get defensive. It is a natural reaction, especially when the patient may be frustrated, in pain or angry. Thank them for bringing their complaint to your attention to make sure that you understand it from their point of view. It will help with resolution if you repeat back to them “If I heard you ….. “
- Now you ask the questions. What was the sequence of events? What have they tried already in terms of a solution? The more you know the more satisfactory your response will be. Even though we sometimes hear similar scenarios, don’t let the patient know that they are being talked to like the anonymous others, don’t assume and listen to their situation and answer uniquely.
- Don’t tell the patient immediately what they need to do to resolve the problem. Take responsibility for your side of the issue first or at the very least express regret that they have not had a positive experience. If there is something that they are talking about that could be changed in the office’s process then let them know that this will be changed in the future to prevent the problem from occurring again.
- When it seems that you and the patient have reached a resolution then please repeat it. Ask if they are in agreement. This will cement in both your minds what the next step will be.
- Thank the patient for bringing the problem to you. They have done you a favour in at least three ways. They have helped you to keep them as a satisfied patient. They will likely speak about you positively in public. They could actually improve the practice for future patients.
It is also very useful to develop a communication tree for any patient problems as well. Define some potential scenarios of where patients may not be happy, and role play how you would handle the situation so that your team will feel comfortable in their responses. You will also want to determine types of complaints that can be handled by the front desk administrators, the ones that need to be escalated to the office manager and the complaints that should be dealt with by the owner. Some owners want to know about every complaint and some just want to become involved at higher levels, make sure your team understands the difference. Make these escalation decisions in advance to help with clear communication. Notes of any discussions with patients should be entered into your software so that there is documentation for further reference.
You can make a patient complaint or disappointment into a five-star patient experience if you handle it in a way that makes the patient feel heard then it is likely that they feel satisfied with the result.