Managing Patient Complaints

Patient complaints are a hazard every medical practitioner experiences at one time or another. Sometimes, patient complaints expose a major issue within the medical practice—the kind that could pose a real health risk or danger. More often, the concerns of patients can be easily resolved with small changes to procedures, methodology, communication skills, or office policies.

Either way, patient complaints should always be taken seriously and addressed quickly in order to resolve both major and minor concerns. Satisfied patients are the lifeblood of a successful practice, and the simple issues often matter just as much as the larger issues to many patients’ day to day lives.

Addressing patient complaints quickly and efficiently is key. Satisfied patients arise from an office culture of empathy, openness, transparency, and communication.

Below are some steps your practice can take to reduce patient complaints and increase overall satisfaction among your patients.

Improve communication skills.

If your staff has not recently been trained in the art of communication, a quick training course or refresher course is always a good idea. Understanding communication is essential in any business environment, but especially so within the healthcare industry. Often, patients need to feel a stronger connection and higher level of trust with their healthcare providers than with any other business exchange. Understanding the nuances of word choice and body language are key in creating a strong relationship between patients and providers, a stronger relationship equals more trust and a more satisfied patient overall.


While listening is certainly part of good communication, it bears standing out, as it’s a skill that many people think they’re good at when, in reality, only a few truly understand its importance. Good listening skills are essential in healthcare. This means that not only are you just staying quiet and hearing every word, but it also requires that you reserve opinions, evaluations, and judgments until after the patients’ concerns have been expressed. Good listening skills also mean understanding what the patient is really asking, even if the exact words the patient has chosen mean something else entirely. A good listener hears what’s not being said, as well as what’s actually expressed.

Show empathy.

Even if a patient is verbally aggressive and livid regarding a situation or experience, it’s important for you to remain calm. The best way to soothe an angry patient is to let them know that you understand their concerns. This might mean standing calmly while the individual airs his or her grievances, or it might mean stating that you do indeed hear and completely understand their concerns—that it would be something you could be concerned about as well. Real empathy means that you could imagine what it’s like to go through the situation that your patients are experiencing. If you patients see that you do understand, they’re more likely to be amendable to a resolution of the issue and the maintenance of a working relationship.

Show a true willingness to act.

Another huge aspect of resolving patient complaints is not just letting them know that you understand, but also showing that you will take real action to resolve the matter. For many patients, any actions that show a true willingness to acknowledge and resolve the concerns brought to your attention will go a long way in solidifying and furthering a strong patient-practice relationship. Even if those actions are as simple as sending an email or calling a meeting to discuss the patients’ concerns, those small steps can go a long way in both preventing future issues and promoting greater patient satisfaction.

Document all concerns and resolutions.

Finally, any issues that are brought to your attention should be documented and the patients should be given documentation to show not only that you are taking their complaint seriously, but that you do plan to take real steps to resolve the issues. Documentation also assures that the issue doesn’t get swept away in the daily grind. It’s easy for issues to be discussed and quickly dismissed when the next patient steps in with a need. Don’t let that happen, because odds are, if one patient has a concern, then others might be similarly impacted. Being proactive in resolving problems within your practice will show your patients that you genuinely care about their well-being and their experiences within your office.

While every business encounters a complaint from time to time, not every business takes the necessary steps to resolve that complaint in a timely fashion. Take a different approach within your practice. Take every concern seriously, be proactive, and take steps to let your patients know that you care. Satisfied patients equal a successful practice, and taking steps to resolve patient complaints will go a long way in building up your patients’ satisfaction in the long run.