No one likes dealing with complaints, but when managed correctly they can help your dental practice go from strength to strength.
Research published last year by NHS Digital show a 9.7% increase in written complaints to general practitioners and dental practices compared with the previous year (1). In France, the number of complaints against medical practitioners has been on the rise since the early 2000s (2).
The trend might initially appear rather alarming, but the fact is there are now more, better informed patients spending more money on a wider range of treatments.
Alongside the explosion in treatments, the General Dental Council (3) also acknowledges the empowerment of patients, the changing patient relationship, greater access to the internet and increased awareness of how to complain as factors that have fueled the increase. In France, the introduction of the Patients’ Rights Law of 2002 has also made it significantly easier for patients to file complaints against practitioners (4).
Facts aside, it’s more important than ever for dentists to have a plan in place to respond. It’s often said that if you fail to plan then you should plan to fail, and a little preparation could help you to both avoid complaints and manage them much more effectively.
However, alongside educating yourself about the legal requirements, you also need to consider how you are going to directly handle the relationship with your patient. Establishing a complaints procedure and sharing that both with your team and your patients can help you to respond promptly, regardless of the type of complaint you are handling. If a disgruntled patient is left waiting, it could fuel their frustration.
Some dentists go as far as to openly ask clients to share their feedback on ways they’d like the practice to improve, which all helps to demonstrate your commitment to your patients and can help to establish their trust. Consumers are used to seeing star ratings for products and services and according to a survey by BrightLocal, 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation (5). Take a look at the blog post on how to encourage patients to leave positive feedback for ideas on how to manage this.
Good Communication is Vital
If a complaint relates to clinical issues (including those relating to alleged negligence) you should seek professional legal advice before taking steps such as engaging in conversation with your patient.
Many other complaint types such as frustration over waiting times, making appointments or costs, often have poor communication at their root (6). If addressed quickly, issues can often be reasonably straightforward to respond to.
Communication needs to be two-way and flexibility is important; patients who are frustrated need to be heard and it’s important they know that you welcome their feedback. Whilst the patient might not always be right, they always have the right to be heard. Many people feel better when they have shared their concerns and acknowledging they have a valid point of view will help pave the way to a resolution.
Getting the Facts Straight
Good communication also helps to unearth the facts; it’s these facts that are essential if you are to resolve the matter at hand. When dealing with general complaints, a face to face meeting with your patient might be the best way to determine the situation. Knowledge, as they say, is power. So only when you fully understand the problem can you work to resolve it.
The nature of the issue will, of course, dictate the response, but it’s important to log all actions and communication with your patient. Reassuring them that you have not forgotten about them can help to maintain their trust and provide peace of mind.
Once a complaint has been dealt with, you may feel like brushing it under the carpet, but some of the most valuable lessons can be learned from mistakes, so use them to good effect.
Any type of complaint could enable you to better support your patients by identifying gaps in staff training, highlighting weaknesses in your procedures or improving your communication.
"If you manage a complaint well it could actually help to improve trust between you and your patient – they’ll know that you are true to your word and can be relied on to put things right."
It’s important to remember that your patients are potentially your most effective salesforce. Nielsen research found that 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising (7), so you can’t underestimate their influence.
Putting Patients First
Establishing an effective complaints procedure and training your staff on how to use it all takes time, but could help you reap the rewards later. This article is intended to provide you with some general guidance and it’s important to remember that you should seek third party advice where you believe it’s appropriate. Having a process to help you respond swiftly and effectively handle a complaint can help you convert a negative situation into a positive one and reassure patients that you have their best interests at heart.