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Why Doctors Need to Hear Patient Gripes and Complaints

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Woman listening intently against black background“Stop already,” you say…you’ve heard them all before. Some (hopefully, only a few) patients gripe and complain about all the usual stuff. We’re not talking about the assorted medical or health complaint. It’s those issues—large or small, serious or trivial, real or imaginary—that bubble up in the course of dozens of patient visits to a doctor’s office.

But the dramatic changes in the nation’s healthcare delivery system means, more than at any time in the past, that doctors need to listen intently to what patients are concerned about, and have a system in place to document and remedy patient issues.

Here are three reasons why doctors need to hear patient gripes and complaints:

One voice has hundreds of listeners: In the past, one unhappy individual might vent their dissatisfaction to a small circle of friends and relatives. That’s never a good thing. But every individual now has the power of the Internet and can easily share any sour feelings—justified or not—with hundreds of others. Online physician rating and review sites—Yelp, Vitals, Healthgrades, RateMDs, ZocDoc, and dozens of other sites and social media platforms—are powerful public address systems for the voice of the customer.

Engaged patients are empowered patients: Not only are there more digital soapboxes; patients are increasingly empowered and assertive in their personal health matters. Patients are better informed, more involved, and no longer passively accepting of whatever they experience at a provider’s office. This, along with other consequences, can easily result in patients and prospective patients beating a path to the competition.

Then there’s the no-win legal course: Patient concerns—legitimate or otherwise—have been known to escalate to the level of formal complaints or into the legal system. It’s far easier to acknowledge and remedy a patient concern in its earliest stages than to allow it to intensify. What’s more, physicians tell us that having a direct hand in promptly answering gripes and complaints have avoided legal entanglements, and even transformed unhappy patients into positive-spirited champions.

In addition, when a doctor takes time to listen to patient concerns, it communicates a feeling of genuine, top-level attention to something that is important to the patient.

Here’s the good news about patient concerns…

It’s not a perfect world; stuff happens, and some complaint issues appear on the review sites. But the good news here—and more reason for doctors to be listening to the voice of the customer—includes:

In the broad view, patient reviews and ratings are largely positive. It’s reasonable to conclude that most patients are satisfied and that most physicians are working hard at delivering a positive (and largely complaint-free) experience.

And, even with a focus on the negative side of the ledger, the reasons for complaints are often related to the office routine.

One research study [Medscape; Vanguard Communications] reports that, “Patients who posted negative reviews were four times more likely to complain about a healthcare provider's indifference, bedside manner or customer service than about his or her medical skills:

  • 43.1 percent included complaints about poor bedside manner;
  • 35.3 percent included complaints about poor customer service; and
  • 21.5 percent included complaints about medical skills, such as false diagnoses and surgical mistakes.

Clinical concerns are more difficult to address, but “bedside manner” and “customer service” are closely controlled, easily defused and avoided in the future.

For more on this topic, see:

Stewart Gandolf

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