Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Complaints

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Complaints

ceo_minute Criticism is difficult to accept, both personally and on behalf of Texas Tech Physicians. Common reactions to criticism include anxiety, fear, anger and resentment. It can be difficult to know how to process. Yet, criticism helps us grow.

Listening carefully to what is being said and acting on the information received helps us achieve our goal of being a “top-tier” practice. Think of criticism as free consulting. Companies spend thousands of dollars hiring “mystery shoppers” to assess their services, so why not accept free consultation from our patrons who are willing to provide feedback?

We know that the overwhelming majority of patients are satisfied with the services provided by Texas Tech Physicians as measured by the Press Ganey survey. However, we have a responsibility to listen to patient complaints, even when they might seem unfair, unfounded or uninformed.

When a patient or family member offers criticism, the first priority should be to defuse emotions. Try to de-escalate the situation so that a calm and rational conversation with the patient can ensue. Usually there is some grain of truth in what the patient describing, and something worthwhile that can be gleaned from the encounter. If nothing else, we can demonstrate to patients that we care about their concerns.

The mnemonic LEARN is a tried-and-true method for dealing with patient complaints:

Listen. Don't ignore the patient. Whether or not you agree, it's important to let customers know that you've heard them and will attempt to meet their need.

Empathize. If the patient shows signs of frustration or anger, a response with the same level of frustration only makes matters worse. Don't be afraid to apologize. There's a reason the patient is upset, regardless of whether we’re at fault.

Ask Questions. Start with the basics: who, what, when, where and how. Asking questions helps get to the root of the issue and buys time to process what’s being said.

Responsibility.Work toward a solution. Be sure to log details, so a report can be sent to a supervisor or someone who can help fix the problem. Complaints often highlight the need for changes in policies, procedures, workflow processes or training.

Negotiate/Learn. Ask what we can do to improve the situation. We should be careful not to over-promise, but look for a way to make the situation better. If needed, we can provide people with a cafeteria card, a bus token, or in extreme situations, we can write off the charge for service. Talk with your supervisor about these options. It is important to confirm that the proposed action is an option before telling the patient it is definite. Lastly, write a brief report of the exchange. We need a record of the visit, and others can learn from what we are told.

Complaints are helpful and are a powerful form of market research. They create an opportunity to build brand loyalty, generate word-of-mouth advertising and improve our practice in ways that really matter to the patient.