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Why Right Now is Not the Best Time to Address a Patient Complaint

Why Right Now is Not the Best Time to Address a Patient Complaint
Matt Giulianelli

We’ve all been there. It’s the end of the week and you are feeling pretty damn good about the great treatments you’ve performed. You’ve had an awesome team meeting, and one of your favorite patients just left you a glowing Google review.  The practice is humming along, it feels like nothing can go wrong.  Then you see something out of the corner of your eye.  Lying on your desk is a note from one of your team members that reads: “Check your email, I forwarded you a message from so-and-so and they are very upset”.


No matter how you slice it, at the end of the day we run a business, and our patients are our customers. One universal truth about customers? They will let you know when they aren’t happy.


Even if the patient complaint does not come from one of the top 20% or ‘A’ patients, as good business owners each deserves attention and reconciliation. But, is there a best practice when it comes to dealing with patient complaints? I think so.



First, I always recommend delegating as much to your team as possible, give them the freedom to work with unhappy patients on the spot. We have adopted the ‘Ritz-Carlton’ approach and it works very well. The patient gets their issue dealt with in a timely fashion and the team member feels empowered to have not been micromanaged and you get to keep your valuable resource-time.

But in cases where a patient complaint needs your review, how should you respond?


I have found the best strategy is to follow is what is sometimes referred to as the “24 Hour Rule” or the space between the stimulus and response.

In these instances, make sure you create a healthy gap between the stimulus (hearing the patient complaint) and developing an appropriate response (email or call back).  I find 24 hours is perfect.  It’s just enough time to separate yourself emotionally from something upsetting, but not long enough to hold onto it so that it starts to affect your ability to focus on other things.



When I receive a complaint, I simply write my response on paper (or in an email draft), and put it away for the night, promising myself I won’t give it another thought until tomorrow.  Then when tomorrow comes, I can read it with a clear mind. I am able to separate what is important to me and what is important to my patient, and make sure I can come up with an amicable solution.


This technique has saved me many times from poorly worded or incorrect responses that would have had little to no positive effect on getting to the bottom of what the patient wanted.  This has been so powerful for me that I’ve even had patients who had thought about transferring to another practice decide to stay after receiving my letter/email/call.


If you consider how much it costs in marketing dollars to bring in a new patient vs. the effort it takes to come to an agreement with an existing patient, it is worth employing the 24 hour rule to reconcile.

An authentic and sincere response plus 24 hours is a great formula for dealing with a less than happy patient.  And here is a bonus-it works for everyone else in your life too!


Tell us, do you have a process for responding to patient complaints?

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