Thursday, July 09, 2015

A blessing in disguise - how doctors can use patient complaints to improve their practise

As hard-working doctors, it’s not always easy to hear complaints from patients. However, if you can change your mind set so that you view complaints as free advice about how to make your medical practice the very best that it can be, both your business and your patients will benefit.
Some of the most common patient complaints include:
  • my doctor is not easily accessible
  • I have to wait too long when I come in for an appointment
  • he or she doesn’t give me enough time
  • my doctor doesn’t return my calls (or doesn’t do so as quickly as I would like)
  • he or she does not explain what’s going on to me.
Let me take the idea that complaints can be useful one step farther. I would even recommend that you actively encourage patients to share their feedback—including both constructive complaints and compliments. After all, wouldn’t you rather have patients come directly to you and your staff to discuss their concerns and proposed solutions, rather than bottling up their displeasure? Ultimately, if this happens and their concerns are not resolved, they will end up either leaving your practice or bad-mouthing you to potential patients—or both.

If my patients are unhappy with me or my services, I encourage them to tell me what the problem is so that I can try to fix it. While it is true that it is not possible to fix all problems—after all, I don't have unlimited resources of time, money, energy, and staff—I can at least try to address the fixable pain points so that my patients are happier in the future.

The best complaints are ones that are accompanied by possible solutions. Therefore, I tell my patients that if they provide a proposed solution along with a problem, it increases the chances that I will be able to do something constructive to address their concern.

I often see patients who are unhappy with a previous doctor. When I ask them whether they discussed their dissatisfaction with the doctor, the most common answer is “No!” Most unhappy patients don't complain to their doctors, which is human nature.

Many patients are worried that if they complain, the doctor or his or her staff may get angry with them and will not provide them with good medical care. Also, patients often feel powerless and helpless . They may sense that the doctor is not concerned about their issue and will ignore them so they don’t feel it would be worthwhile to complain.

However, we would all much rather have happy, satisfied patients who recommend you to their family and friends, rather than unhappy, disgruntled patients who leave your practice and tell others about their dissatisfaction.

Actively seek feedback
Encourage patients who have a complaint to talk with you and/or your staff about their concerns via:
  • an email
  • a letter
  • a feedback form on your clinic Web site
  • a scheduled phone call or in-person visit
  • through patient feedback forms that can be dropped into a box in your waiting room either signed or submitted anonymously.
Be sure in developing online or in-person feedback forms that you ask for complaints/criticism, proposed solutions, and compliments (it’s also important to know what you and your team are doing right so that you can keep doing it!).

Be sure to follow up with patients who submit feedback to let them know that their opinions matter and you appreciate them taking them time to comment. While not all issues that patients are concerned about are valid or fixable, many are, and that’s where you should focus your attention. This process will empower patients and send the message that their opinions matter.

By being responsive to a specific patient’s concerns, you also will likely resolve issues that are troubling other patients who may not have spoken up, which will have an exponentially greater positive impact.

Working collaboratively with your patients, you can build a stronger medical practice, creating a win-win situation for both of you.

This article by Dr Aniruddha Malpani was first  published at

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