Dealing with Unhappy Patients

It’s inevitable … at some point in time you, or one of your staff members, will encounter a dissatisfied or unhappy patient. I am sure that your office or practice strives to provide exceptional service to all, but in reality mistakes are made and miscommunications happen. And when the result is an unhappy patient, it’s important to realize that your first response to the situation could mean the difference between resolving the problem and making it irreversibly worse.

Typically our initial reaction to an upset patient is to figure out what the problem is and fix it. However, offering a solution may not be enough. Upset patients will likely have strong feelings when either you or your service lets them down. So, instead of focusing on the problem, instead try addressing the patient’s emotions first. Try to do this by:

Staying Calm: Don’t allow their emotionally charged remarks to get to you. Becoming defensive will likely worsen the situation.

Listening: Give them your full attention and let them express the feelings they are having.  Most unhappy patients realize the problem may never be fixed – they just need to blow off a little steam.

Empathizing: Be genuine in your response. Comments like “I see what you mean” and “I understand how the situation made you feel that way” demonstrate that you are taking the matter seriously.

Remaining Silent: A moment of silence will slightly pressure the person to keep talking, which allows you to collect additional facts and feelings, and by neither agreeing nor disagreeing you are demonstrating that you accept what they are saying – which can have a calming effect.

The next time you’re faced with an unhappy patient, try to resist the overwhelming urge you have to deliver an immediate solution and instead follow these few steps. Once the patient has had a chance to fully “vent their frustrations” you may find that identifying and resolving the problem becomes a little less painful and a little more productive.

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