Patient complaints are a reality of running any health care business. While receiving negative feedback can be unpleasant, it is essential for making noticeable improvements to your company and holding onto patients and…. bringing in more new patients too.
One way you can mitigate the sting when people take time out of their day to complain about your product and/or services?
When they feel heard, more than likely they will go away happy- even if not satisfied with what was done in response.
In the best-case scenario, your patient may even have a more positive view of your practice after a complaint is resolved than before they even had an issue
What Are Patients Complaints?
There’s always a chance that a patient can be disappointed with the product or service delivered, even if it matches your expectations. That can lead to patient complaints and unhappy patients overall.
Patient complaints demonstrate that there’s a mismatch between the product or service delivered and the patients initial expectations.
When complaints are one-off occurrences or mistakes, they can be interpreted as negative feedback and the relationship between the health care practitioner and patient can usually be salvaged. When they’re consistent trends, they need to be addressed at a more fundamental level.
This conflict in expectations and results can be associated with several different reasons:
- Unreasonable expectations that are hard to meet. Occasionally patients have a long list of demands that are difficult for any health care business to meet. They may have unreasonable expectations regarding pricing, the level of service, time spent with patients or they may have misunderstood one of your practice’s purposes.
- Scenarios that are outside your control. Sometimes things go wrong and they have nothing to do with your practice or your care.
- Misleading marketing around the healthcare business’s offering. Sometimes health businesses misrepresent their products or practices through their marketing and social media campaigns, and prospects may feel that they’ve invested in an offer that didn’t meet their expectation
- Operational failures. Sometimes a practice has great providers but there is an issue that takes place before or after care. This can happen when health care businesses that don’t fully train employees.
Where Are Patients Most Likely to Complain?
Depending on your health care business model and location, patients may have multiple options for lodging a complaint. Patient feedback can appear in two different ways, public and private.
Naturally, if you’re providing channels for private negative feedback you’re more likely to be able to handle these issues outside of the public eye.
Here are some of the top ways patients usually choose to complain:
- Frontline staff. If you own a patient-facing practice, your patients may be more likely to complain in-person to a staff member who happens to be on duty.
- Surveys. If you send out regular patient satisfaction surveys, they may use it as an opportunity to share complaints about your health care business or offers.
- Online reviews. Sometimes dissatisfied patients will use 3rd party review sites for complaining about your health care business. If you do receive online negative reviews, remember it is really important to acknowledge the feedback and be empathetic.
- By phone or email. Health care businesses that provide a more personalized service to a smaller group of patients, may receive more complaints directly to their phone lines or through email.
- Social Media. It’s becoming more common for patients to leave comments and reviews on health care businesses’ social media profiles. It’s critical to have a policy in place because social media is so public.
What Do Patients Typically Complain About?
Regardless of industry, health care businesses will be met with some form of complaint at one point or another. Whether it’s as a result of an error you made or due to something they felt was impossible for your patients to overcome, there are certain scenarios that tend to provoke complaints the most.
Having an awareness of what your patients typically complain about will not only help you improve your health care business’s offering but also help your employees prepare for handling common complaints.
If you want to save time and make your patient happy, then don’t hesitate to collect feedback from them. It takes just a little bit of work every day for both the patient and health care business owner alike in order to avoid confusion or conflict.
Here are some areas that patients typically complain about and plausible solutions to those complaints.
Slow Patient Service
Whether you run a telemedicine or brick and mortar practice, patients appreciate efficient service. Patients like to feel that their time is respected and they don’t want to waste any of it waiting in line while talking on the phone with your company’s team.
Long wait times mean that your practice does not prioritize practice experience and may be unable to deal with patient flow efficiently.
Here’s what to do:
- Training! Helping your staff understand how to communicate with patients when wait times exceed expectations can decrease complaints.
- Improve your operations! Adjusting processes, adding staff, being aware of inventory or signage are also good ways to pre-emptively address potential bottlenecks
Long Wait Times or Unavailable Services
In the world of marketing, an out-of-stock product or fully booked appointment is better than a sold one. Your health care business must be doing something right if patients are willing to wait for you for long periods of time between patients.
However, outdated inventory and no available bookings can make potential patients lose interest in your company quickly so it’s important that these items stay on hand at all times.
Patients may keep calling and emailing your health care business for updates about these unavailable services and products.
Ultimately they may leave you negative feedback either online or in-person.
Here’s what to do:
- Training your staff to communicate empathetically with patients for the inconvenience is a good start…
- Setting realistic expectations via communication of wait times in the office.
- Setting realistic expectations by communicating when you next expect to have these products or services available is ideal.
Even if you have the best intentions of resolving a patient’s issue, they may feel anxious about your progress and want to know how it is going.
If patients are in need of help with time-sensitive requests or complaints, then they’ll be looking for updates on what information you’re able to find.
It’s important to be upfront about expected response times and stick to them. This way, you can give all patients the best service possible without disappointing some people just because their expectations are too high.
Here are a few follow-up best practices:
- It’s ok not to have the solution right away. It’s a good idea to communicate with the patient that you are actively trying to solve the issue.
- Set patient expectations with realistic timelines for resolution. If you know it will take a few days to resolve the problem, don’t promise a solution for the next day.
- Think about the channel through which the patient made the complaint and the acceptable response time. 24 hours is acceptable for a negative online review or an email, but a few hours or less is generally expected for in-person or phone complaint
- If a complaint is time-sensitive, reassure patients by providing a few regular updates.
How Should Any Health Care Business Handle Complaints?
Your practice will be able to turn complaining patients into loyal advocates if you are aware of the issue and resolve it, as well as effectively communicate throughout. This is a great way for both sides to win!
- Make it Easy for Patients to Complain
Patients will not feel inclined to go through the hassle of complaining when they know that their feedback is only going to be met with a formality.
To help create a solid patient experience, patients need to feel that the health care business cares about their thoughts and feelings and their overall health. When patients complain, it should be easy for them to share their honest opinions and thoughts with a health care business.
You could encourage patient to share their thoughts by:
- Putting a form on your website to encourage feedback and complaints.
- Posting a feedback link in your newsletter, social media platforms, and in-office.
- Actively ask your patient for their opinions.
Proactively asking your patients for honest feedback is a great way of preventing complaints from escalating. Sending out patient satisfaction surveys at regular intervals helps you gauge how they feel about your health care business and if there are any problems that need to be addressed before it’s too late!
It can be used as an opportunity for uncovering valuable insights such as what may not be working for your health care business.
When patients complain, ask valid questions to dig deeper into what caused the issue in the first place.
When a patient registers a complaint, consider asking the following questions:
- Could you elaborate on that point more?
- Could you clarify what you mean by that?
- Help me understand how we can meet your expectations?
Here’s the thing, although patient complaints are never comfortable, it’s also a good time for some self-reflection.
- Do I need any further details?
- Why is this complaint significant for my business?
- What happened to cause the patient to complain?
- How can we prevent this from recurring?
Asking the right questions will help you uncover the root of a problem so that it can be resolved. Depending on how your health care business is structured, you may choose to assign one team member as a patient complaint specialist who handles complaints and uncovers insights about what needs improvement in order for clients to have an even better experience with your company.
- Respond Proactively and Efficiently
Acceptable response times depend on the nature of the complaint.
Here are some complaint response time best practices:
- Respond promptly.Negative feedback requires a swift reply and resolution to show care and action from your health care business.
- If the feedback is public, respond publicly. It’s an opportunity to show future patients you’re responsive, capable and willing to right a wrong.
- Read through the complaint thoroughly. Use the patient’s own words to personalize your reply. This goes a long way to display empathy!
- Offer a solution. Showing empathy for the situation and being respectful is vital to successful response management, but a solution is at the core of what the patient wants. Providing a solution that’s appropriate to the complaint, whether that be compensation, a refund, or replacement.
- Put the right person in charge. Make sure that the person replying to negative reviews has the authority to offer solutions.
Taking time to regularly monitor your patient complaints is important to ensure you don’t miss one.
- Follow up to Verify You’ve Solved Their Problem with a Suitable Solution
When you’ve found the cause of a patient complaint, identified an appropriate solution and proposed it to them, don’t forget about follow-ups. It can be hard for patients to let go so make sure they feel heard by following up on your proposal in order to see if their problem has been addressed or not.
Patients appreciate health care businesses that care about their experience and their overall satisfaction.
You can then follow up with patients by:
- Asking them if there’s anything else you can do to help them.
- Simply asking if the solution worked out for them.
- Record the Complaint and Analyze Patterns
When you receive a complaint, it’s important to record the type of complaint and who it came from.
The complaint could come from:
- A regular patient
- A one-off patient
- A high-value patient
If you receive multiple complaints about the same issue from a similar type of patient point, you can identify trends in your operations!
It’s important to identify high-volume complaints as these can point to dominant issues throughout your health care business.
Identifying repeat complaints and taking steps to address the root cause, it’ll become easier to prevent future complaints!
Here’s How You Can Support Your Employees to Properly Handle Patient Complaints?
Health care business owners should provide employees with the proper training to help them resolve patient complaints in a timely manner.
Clear guidance and policies will help ensure that each patient complaint gets a standardized level of attention from staff members, while those complaints are recorded properly.
Create a Clearly Written Complaint Handling Document
Writing a guide to handling patient complaints professionally and effectively is a good idea. This document should be comprehensive so employees know how to deal with different situations as they come up, both on the job training-wise and in a pinch when no one else is around for guidance.
As we mentioned earlier, if you’re consistently collecting feedback, you should be familiar with common patient complaints and have a specific way for your employees to be able to handle them. That way, employees will understand what’s expected of them as the complaints arise.
Try to provide guidance on how they should react, how to escalate the complaint, and provide possible solutions.
To avoid complaints, make sure your complaint handling document is easily accessible to all staff members. After reading the document you should feel confident in making judgment calls and tackling different situations on your own.
Give Your Staff Resources to Resolve Complaints
If you want to make your employees feel confident in handling complaints, consider providing interactive training sessions. You could incorporate role-play situations where we show them the potential set of patient problems that can occur and force trainees to come up with solutions on their own.
Re-evaluate How Your Health Care Business Handles Complaints Routinely
Handling patient complaints is one of the more difficult aspects of working in a client-facing role. It’s important for employees to feel well-equipped when handling these types of cases, so it’s necessary that managers check on their staff quarterly and provide high quality training sessions if needed.
Final Thoughts On Patient Complaints
Complaints are inevitable when running any health care business but they can also provide useful information about where improvements need to be made which will ultimately benefit patients as well!
Patient Support is a big part of your health care businesses’ marketing! It tells a story of how your health care business values your patient sentiment. Take it seriously!
It is important to make the effort to work on the issues that patients complain about, and proactively improve how your health care business deals with negative feedback. You might want to try implementing a few of our suggestions for handling complaints and see if you can retain more loyal patients.
So… if you are a private practice healthcare business owner and you are looking to grow and scale your practice or generate more new patients for the practice – we are here for you! Drop a comment below if you have questions or if you’d like to set up a call with us go here: https://chat.practiceinsidersedge.com/PIE-Triage-Call