2020 will see healthcare’s full transition to value-based reimbursement, so scoring low on the patient satisfaction surveys that payers send to patients will cost you. But how do you handle those patients who, no matter how nice you are, you just can’t please? Whether it’s a patient unhappy with your fee, course of treatment or long wait time, you have to train your staff – especially the front desk, who’s on the front lines – to diffuse those difficult situations and promote peace in your practice.
Here are 8 ways you can manage patient complaints and diffuse their frustrations:
1. Be proactive. Don’t wait for patients to come whining to you – or their insurance companies – ask them how you’re doing, and ask them frequently. Ask directly, at checkout. Ask with surveys, both online and by mail. Have the tending physician ask during the appointment. Let your patients know their grievances matter, and you want to resolve them quickly and amicably.
2. Address concerns. Pay attention to what your patients are telling you, and address their concerns. For example, if your patients frequently complain that they have an unusually long wait time, re-evaluate if you have enough staff to handle your patient flow.
3. Listen attentively. A frustrated patient wants to be heard, not interrupted or told to calm down, which will only make things worse. Listen attentively until your patient is finished speaking before you interject anything into the conversation. And by all means, don’t roll your eyes, tap your pen or sigh deeply while you listen. That will only send the message that you’re annoyed and impatient.
4. Speak cautiously. After listening, pause and then speak in a calm tone. Make sure you understand what is bothering your patient by restating her concerns. Don’t tell your patient she is totally wrong; that will just agitate and alienate her further.
5. Thicken your skin. Don’t take your angry or irritable patient’s grievance personally. Is your patient facing an uncertain health challenge? Oftentimes anger is an outward manifestation of fear.
6. Trade places. Put yourself in your patient’s position so you can understand him better. Is he in a lot of physical pain? Has he been ill for a while? Patients who suffer chronic pain are apt to get agitated. Is your patient responding to a large bill while he’s out of work? Trying to understand how your patient feels will help you respond in a more positive manner.
7. Apologize. Apologizing to your patient will validate that you accept her concern. Don’t confuse this with accepting responsibility or blame, but instead see it as offering an empathetic way to connect with your patient. Saying something like, “I’m so sorry you felt rushed at your appointment today. Can I take some of your questions and have a nurse or the doctor call you back by the end of the day?” will offer empathy plus a solution, which could be all it takes to defuse a frustrated patient.
8. Document complaints. Make sure your staff is trained to document all complaints no matter how small. One complaint today could lead to a second next month or next year. Documenting the issue and how you resolve it will leave a paper trail should you need to prove anything under litigation.
At Practice Builders, we understand that it’s not easy dealing with frustrated patients. We can create scripts specifically for your practice that you can use to address patient complaints and provide customized training for your staff to handle difficult patients. Call us at 855.898.2710 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and sign up for a free marketing consult to discuss how we can help!