Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Why patients need to complain

As a practicing doctor, I hear a lot of complaints about the bad experiences which patients have had at other clinics. For example I recently sent a patient to an x-ray clinic for her HSG. While the procedure was performed flawlessly from a technical point of view, she was extremely unhappy about the fact that she'd been made to wait for over three hours. She was complaining quite volubly to me when I asked her a simple question – Have you made a complaint to the clinic in writing?

She looked back quite puzzled as she had never thought about doing so. I explained to her that unless patients provide feedback , it's not really possible for doctors to improve their services. Doctors need constructive criticism in order to be able to improve.

Patients are often very unwilling to complain. They are quite scared to complain about the clinic at which they taking treatment currently , because they're worried that if they do so , the staff will get upset with them, and may not provide their patient with quality medical care . Patients are vulnerable and are scared that the medical staff may abuse their position of power if they take offense . This is why most patients keep quiet and put up with poor quality medical care, even if they are seething on the inside.

After the treatment is over, most patients forget about how unhappy they were ; and will not bother to take any action, since the problem lies in the past. Partly , this is because they feel they powerless and helpless , and assume that doctors don’t care about complaints from patients, because they are too high and mighty and too busy to bother over such trifles. If things are going to improve, then why bother to take the time and trouble to complain ? It's true that complaining takes a certain amount of energy , but I think this is actually a duty which patients owe to doctors ; to themselves ; as well as to future patients. If you've not been happy with a particular service, if you take the trouble to point out this deficiency to the hospital , it's possible that an enlightened hospital administration will take the complaint seriously and fix the problem , so that the other patients they treat in the future won't have to put up with the same inconvenience you did.

Sadly, patients are often too lazy to complain. Their commonest justification is selfish - Since my treatment is now over, how will complaining help me ? It’s easy for them to justify their passivity by saying that there’s no point in complaining, because doctors don’t care and will not listen ! However, if patients do not speak up, then to whom will doctors listen ?
It's obviously in the patient's best interest to make sure they get good quality treatment from doctors. It's also in the doctor's best interest to make sure that they provide good quality treatment. The best way to create a win-win situation is to provide an atmosphere where patients feel that their complaints will be treated as gifts !

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