Have you ever had a patient complain? As office manager, part my job is to handle every upset patient – I have the flexibility of time and the training to listen to angry patients, identify opportunities for real improvement and hopefully maintain the relationship. After years of handling upset patients, I am super successful at dealing with these tough situations. In fact, for over 10 years, I’ve kept track of how many patients complain, what they complain about and how many stay in the practice. I am successful with patient complaints over 77% of the time – and we only average about 25 complaints each year. I think that’s pretty amazing for having over 6000 patients!
Just last month, I handled a patient upset that we resolved in a unique manner, that truly improved the practice. Here’s the story: I received a call from the mother of a 20 year old patient who had surgery with my periodontist – and this Mom was absolutely furious!
Her daughter had a tough time at first during her visit (crying and feeling afraid) until the Dr. successfully managed her anesthetic. Mom overheard her daughter upset and afterward said to the Dr. that she was disappointed to hear how difficult this appointment was – and my periodontist mentioned that she was surprised the Mom had refused the Halcion. Mom said she “absolutely never refused’ the Halcion – and in fact, it was never offered! She felt that words were put into her mouth and that her daughter suffered unnecessarily.
So, I talked with Mom – and couldn’t get a word in edgewise since she was so angry. Perfectly understandable. I just listened to her concerns, clarified them and told Mom I would look into why we didn’t offer Halcion? Generally, my periodontist offers Halcion to patients who are especially anxious about oral surgery. We don’t charge anything for the prescription and it’s purely optional, but has been a very nice gesture to help patients stay comfortable during a difficult appointment.
Turned out we did have a prescription for Halcion in the chart – from 6 months ago when the exam took place and the family was undecided about wanting this medication or not. When one of the secretary team scheduled the appointment, she didn’t see the prescription tucked in the back of the chart and there were no notes that this was required. After interviewing the few secretaries that were involved with scheduling & handling phone calls with this family, we discovered that the real issue is that we don’t include a code for Halcion – so there was no way for the scheduling secretary to include it with the Dentrix treatment plan for the surgery!
Thanks to this Mom taking the time to complain – and thanks to my taking her concern seriously enough to look into the problem – we added a new code (D9630.1 by the way) set it up as no fee and changed the description to ‘Halcion’. So, in the future, when our periodontist (or any other dentist) offers Halcion to a patient, we can include it in our treatment plan – which will remind us to get the prescription to the patient and review the instructions at our confirmation call as well.
When I wrap up a patient complaint, I always call the patient (or Mom in this case) back to let her know:
- How much I appreciate her taking the time to let me know we had a problem
- The work I did in researching the problem
- The solution we are now implementing (again thanks to the patient)
With this approach, I usually hear a very nice ‘Thank you’ – and a comment about ‘How refreshing it is to find someone who cares’ and occasionally a remark ‘You know, I was going to leave the practice but thanks to you, we’ll stay.’ I wish I could give you a happy ending wrap up for this Mom, but she never returned my calls to let her know how the wrap up on this situation. Instead, I mailed her a note with my thanks & our improvement thanks to her involvement – and, thanks to a new cupcake shop that just opened downtown, I threw in a gift card for a free cupcake on us as our way of saying Thank You!
If you’re interested in learning more about this approach to solving patient complaints, just follow this link.