DTC Competition: Reflecting on a Complaint with Terri Reed

Next entry for my DTC competition is from Terri Reed from Barts & the London...

It’s the conversation that all dentists dread. Having a patient express their dissatisfaction is enough to make even the most qualified professionals quake in their crocs. As dentists we are carers and perfectionists, so knowing that our care didn’t meet the standards patients expect can be difficult. However, handling a complaint creates the opportunity to not only reflect clinically, but also exercise our interpersonal skills in what can be an uncomfortable situation. Having been here, I’ve got a few tips:

  1. Stay calm and let the patient speak: Pretty obvious right? Actually, we can all get in a flap quite easily and instinctively want to defend ourselves. By remaining calm and allowing the patient to explain, the root cause for the complaint may be determined and the appropriate next steps facilitated. Sometimes emotional concerns can exacerbate complaints, so this is important to identify. Giving the patient time allows them to feel valued, sometimes making the magnitude of the complaint lessen.
  2. Apologise and explain: Apologise for the error, irrespective of size and cause; any distress the patient feels requires an apology. Sometimes the root of the complaint is due to miscommunication, for example not explaining specific post-op symptoms or treatment costs. Explaining the cause of the error and rectifying quickly often results in better complaint resolution.
  3. What does the patient want to happen?: Asking the patient what they would like to happen next allows you to understand how they want the issue resolved. Some patients will simply want you to be aware of the issue and help prevent it happening again, while others will want resolution in the form of reduced treatment costs etc. The feasible resolution options must be discussed and an agreed outcome established.
  4. Document and Reflect: Notes should be clear and contemporaneous, stating exactly what the patient said and what was discussed. This is important from a medico-legal perspective if the complaint were escalated. Similarly, personally reflect on the situation; what went well and how could your approach be improved.

Look out for more entries for the competition coming soon!

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