Empower Your Practice

Journal for Practice Managers

The Dos and Don'ts of Responding to Patient Complaints

Almost every clinic has to work with complainants. To prevent this process from escalating into lengthy litigation, fines and loss of reputation, it is necessary to learn how to respond correctly to claims. This is done by following the law and considering people's psychological characteristics.

What Is a Formal Complaint?

According to the law, a complaint is a representation of a requirement to review and eliminate escalations in the work of a medical institution. Simply put, when a clinic visitor remains dissatisfied with the quality of service, he has the right to express this in an official claim.

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Complaints can be justified and unfounded.

Reasons for justified appeals:

  • Temporary reception delay.
  • Rudeness towards the patient.
  • Deterioration of patient health due to incorrect treatment tactics.

A complaint is considered unfounded if the patient:

  • Does not follow appointments, complains of health deterioration.
  • Requires the clinician to prescribe a certain treatment. For example, he chooses tests and medications.
  • Was late for an appointment and refused a consultation.

Complaint handling is always difficult to work with. It is better if employees are legally savvy and can respond correctly to certain complaints.

High-quality and comprehensive training for doctors is provided by educational organizations. At the advanced training courses, teachers talk about the main provisions of legislation in healthcare, psychological techniques, algorithms for working with complaints. This allows doctors to avoid fines and patient loyalty loss.

Complaint Response Time

The time frame for responding to patient concerns according to the law can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the type of complaint. Healthcare providers are required to respond to complaints promptly and professionally. However, the specific time for taking action may not be specified in the law, but may be outlined in the healthcare facility's policies and procedures.

In the United States, there is no federal law that sets a specific time for responding to complaints. However, some states have laws that require complaints managers to respond to complaints within a certain timescale.

For example, in California, healthcare facilities are required to provide a written response to a patient within 30 days of receiving a complaint.

Similarly, in the United Kingdom, the National Health Service (NHS) has set a standard for responding to complaints within 30 working days. However, this period may vary depending on the nature and complexity of the complaint.

The NHS Complaints Procedure

The NHS Complaints Procedure is a structured process that aims to provide a fair, transparent and timely way for patients or their representatives to raise concerns about any aspect of their care or treatment received from the NHS.

The procedure involves several stages, including local resolution, independent review, and investigation by the Health Service Ombudsman, if necessary. Patients are encouraged to first raise their concerns with the member of staff responsible for their care. The provider should acknowledge the complaint promptly and conduct a thorough investigation. They should respond to the patient within 30 working days.

If the patient is not satisfied with the response received from the healthcare provider, they can request an independent review from the relevant NHS commissioning organization. This review will be conducted by an independent organization, such as the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman is an independent body that investigates complaints about the NHS and makes recommendations for improvements.

When Can I Refuse Complaints?

People complain about medical institutions often and not always. If the clinic responded to every claim, it would have no time left for specialized work.


Important! In some cases, the clinic can ignore the appeal. But to preserve your image, send a response letter. For example, if the letter text is illegible, the medical institution can return it to the sender within 7 days with an explanation and further information.

Algorithm for the Complaint Process

In order to respond correctly to a complaint, it is necessary to take into account the norms prescribed by law and the peculiarities of psychological work with people.

The algorithm for responding to a patient request consists of several stages.

The clinic accepts patient complaints in written, oral or electronic form. On the basis of the application, health information is collected and extracted from the medical record.

To clarify the data, the applicant is asked:

  • What exactly facts indicate violations on the part of the doctor or clinic.
  • If there is any harm to health and what.
  • If there is any material damage, what it is.

Consultation notes EN

Legal advice from a lawyer is used to determine whether the complaint is unfounded, partially justified or justified.

Within 10 days, the head physician or other responsible person answers the essence of the problem set out in the appeal. The letter is signed by the organization's head.

The full response is sent in the form indicated by the patient. It can be an email or a postal address. If the patient applied orally, he may receive a response in the same form. But only if his problem does not need additional investigation.

Unfortunately, there are no generally accepted forms of complaint response. Regulatory documents regulate only the order and content, but do not address the structure and nature of the letter.

Rules for Responding to Medical Complaints

When writing a response to a complaint, lawyers recommend following these rules.

  1. In the opening paragraph, use the plural ("we have considered"), the first person ("I have considered") or the organization ("our clinic", "clinic administration").
  2. Explain the answer in detail and full.
  3. In case of refusal to consider, specify the reason and ways to appeal the decision.

If a patient complains about a doctor or clinic verbally, it is necessary to observe the following rules of communication to avoid a written complaint to higher authorities.

  1. During a face-to-face meeting, listen to the patient's claims, avoiding excessive emotionality.
  2. Ask leading questions to understand the problem essence in detail.
  3. Express sympathy and understanding. For example, reply:

"I understand you, calm down. We will solve your problem."

"It's good that you applied. We'll figure it out."

If the complaint is justified, offer the patient an action plan to resolve the conflict.


Psychology Helps

Patients complain about the following situations:

  • Prescribed diagnosis and treatment
  • Organizational issues.

If the second point is related only to the client's comfort, then the first one is related to health and the patient experience. Violations concerning medical care quality can lead to serious consequences.

Do not ignore the human factor, fatigue and the poor health of patients. It is not uncommon for a claim to be based only on emotions and unconstructive. In this case, support or empathy works.

Knowledge of psychological techniques is no less relevant than knowledge of laws in situations of dissatisfied patients. There is a certain communication tactic that prevents complaints about a doctor.

Always listen carefully to the person, even if he is wrong

Stick to calm intonation, avoid active gestures. It is important to distinguish the main thing from the patient's claim.

Don't succumb to aggression

It can be difficult not to react if the patient turns to personalities and insults. But it is necessary to close your eyes to this, not to aggravate it.

Call a person by name

Show sympathy and express condolences if you are wrong. Very often, after apologies are made, the conflict fades away. Some people only want proof of their rightness, recognition of the mistake by the doctor himself, and not lengthy court proceedings.

Practice Management Software for Preventing Lawsuits

PMS tools are essential for healthcare providers, clinic managers, and owners. These software programs help healthcare providers manage patient information, appointments, billing, and other administrative tasks. In addition to improving efficiency and reducing paperwork, PMS tools can also protect doctors, managers, and clinic owners from lawsuits.

The use of Medesk intuitive interface doesn’t require a special training. The platform is convenient from the minute. Anyway, we are always ready to answer any questions of our clients and conduct trainings on the program.

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PMS can protect patients by improving accuracy and consistency in patient documentation. It helps providers enter accurate and complete patient information, including medical history, medications, and allergies. This can reduce the risk of errors and omissions that lead to malpractice claims.

Automated billing and payment processes ensure accurate billing codes and claims. Built-in security features protect against data breaches, hacking, and other security threats.

Finally, PMS tools can help healthcare providers stay up-to-date with regulatory requirements and industry best practices. These tools can provide alerts and reminders for compliance with regulations such as HIPAA, OSHA, and Medicare. This can help clinic managers and owners avoid legal and financial penalties for non-compliance.

Final Thoughts

Often, solving problems with the patient orally at an early stage helps to avoid complications in the form of filing a legal claim. This saves time for the doctor and the clinic as a whole.

Dealing with patient complaints is a complex and time-consuming process. Healthcare activities involve constant communication with people, so almost everyone faces conflicts one way or another.

To cope with stress and respond correctly to appeals, learn to abstract from emotions, correctly analyze the situation and use our practice management software to avoid this from happening.

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