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Don`t Complain about the Complainers
If we were getting everything right, no one would have an issue or be able to moan about our services. So, when a patient actually goes as far as making a complaint it is an opportunity to learn how to get things right! The logic of this is inescapable, but we still defy logic by feeling that patients who complain are `difficult` or `awkward`. Let`s have a re-think and just check through a few suggestions for improving our reactions and procedures for dealing with complaints.
First, prevention is better than cure. The more information we give to patients about treatment and choices, the less likely they are to feel we have been negligent or that we have not heard their concerns. The bottom line is that every patient should have –
- Treatment choices for any situation, together with risks and prognosis.
- Explanation of what the treatments mean
- Costs of all options
- The chance to think about these as long as the treatment is not urgent.
It is also essential to protect yourself, should the worst happen, by recording all of the above. If these things have been fully explained and the patient has consented to treatment, it really does limit the chances of a complaint.
When someone has a concern about their treatment, it is so easy to become defensive and try to fob off what seems to be a minor irritation. However, this makes the other party feel `un-heard` and it is more likely to continue into a deeper conflict later. It`s much better to use a minor worry or complaint to be inquisitive about their concern – open it up rather than try to shut it down. A short discussion can lead to an easy explanation, or the opportunity to make something right, before and escalation or even losing a good patient.
What if it won`t go away?
Basic rule of dealing with complaints – try not to let it go outside the practice! If an explanation doesn't work, then invite the patient to speak, or write to, the Practice Manager with a précis of their worry. The Practice Manager has responsibility for collating, responding and investigating complaints. By introducing a third party to the process, you prevent this becoming too personal and people are quite often happier explaining their concerns to someone who is not directly involved. This becomes part of your `Practice Complaints Procedure`. Patients should be made aware of how to complain, and reassured that their comments and complaints are listened to and acted on effectively. It`s also really important to word any information in such a way that they know they will not be discriminated against for making a complaint. Information about this should be available in all the public areas of the practice.
Check your Policy and Procedure
Make sure your practice procedures are up to date and that everyone knows how to react to a complaint. For more details on this, look at the QCS Complaints Policy and Procedure, available in the Dental Package.
Dr John Shapter – QCS Expert Dental Contributor