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Handling Patient Complaints
One of the biggest challenges that practices face is how to appropriately deal with a patient complaint. A complaint does not necessarily mean that something went wrong.

In order to meet the challenge, it is important to understand why patients are angry in the first place. Often it is the result of poor communication and differing expectations. Regardless of how far-fetched or bizarre the complaint, we may have difficulty understanding it unless we realize what the patientís expectations are to begin with. Additionally, while we may see only anger, many times there are other feelings such as despair, resentment, sadness or helplessness underlying the patientís reaction.

Patients who report being treated with respect and who feel that they are being included in treatment decisions, are more satisfied with their care and adherent to their Physicianís recommendations.

The greatest challenge for any practice is to act on the information received and not to ignore it. You encourage communication when you let the patient know that you acted on their complaint or suggestion. Every practice should have a procedure in place that responds when the patient or family expresses concerns.

When addressing a complaint:

  • Listen!

  • Ask open-ended questions and let the patient talk for at least one minute before responding.

  • Exceptions? Even the Physician has the right to be treated civilly.

  • Avoid countering every charge with a rationalization.

  • Hold routine meetings between staff and Physicians to identify and resolve many patient complaints early.

Dismissing a Patient
Sometimes the relationship between Physician and patient becomes so damaged that everyone would be best served if the patient was discharged from the practice. While this is not done frequently, it may at some point become necessary.

When considering terminating a patient from the practice, the Physician and staff must keep in mind that the focus should be to protect patient care and to minimize any concerns regarding patient abandonment. It is important that staff assist the Physician to ensure that proper documentation of patient non-compliance, disruptive behavior or evidence of bad rapport.

Appropriate steps to terminate the Physician-Patient relationship include:

  • Reviewing the medical record for conditions that require additional treatment or monitoring.

  • Checking the provisions of any contract signed with the patientís health plan to ensure compliance.

  • Giving the patient written notice, by certified and regular mail.

  • Providing the patient with a brief explanation for terminating the relationship.

  • Avoid referring the patient to another specific Physician. Instead, refer them to a provider referral source.

  • Agreeing to provide treatment and access to services for a reasonable period of time (usually 30 days), to allow the patient to obtain care from another Physician.

  • Offering to transfer the records to the new Physician upon signed patient authorization to do so.

  • Ensure thorough documentation of the termination and place a copy of the termination letter in the patientís record.