Addressing Complaints of Rude Medical Practice Staff

April 13, 2015

When patients report bad behavior by your staff, what do you do? Let the Civility CEO help with this and with dealing with office clutter.

Dear Sue,

A few longstanding patients have mentioned to me privately that my receptionist is becoming increasingly abrupt and rude. I'm shocked to hear this, because she is always polite in my presence and I've never seen her behave disrespectfully. How can I address these concerns without offending one of my most valued staff members? 

Bewildered

Dear Bewildered,

First things first: When more than one patient comes to you in a short period of time with the same complaint about a member of your staff, you need to sit up and listen. The fact that these people shared their observations with you is indicative of a change in behavior that needs your attention.

I suspect that you and your team have established a rhythm that keeps your practice running smoothly, which is great. The downside to this is that you may have developed blurred vision about how some of the systems and staff are working.

Your receptionist's well-being is a priority. So are the operating standards of your practice.

Here is a five-step approach to help you resolve this issue:

1. Express gratitude for being notified. It probably was not easy for your patients to alert you to their concerns. A simple phrase like, "Thank you for bringing this to my attention" will help ease their apprehensions.

2. Take the blinders off. Look at your receptionist with fresh eyes and actively listen to her interactions. Is she noticeably curt? Does she seem to be distracted or upset? Be prepared to politely intervene if you see actions or overhear conversations that concern you.

3. Find out more. Discreetly ask trusted colleagues and patients if they've noted any changes in the general atmosphere at your practice (don't single out your receptionist's conduct). Take note of their responses without becoming defensive.

4. Compile factual information. Document your observations and the comments from others. Do you see a trend developing? Is your receptionist's behavior more discourteous on Mondays, for example? Perhaps there's something troubling going on at home during weekends. Pay attention to any patterns.

5. Invite your receptionist to meet with you. You're going to have to have a heartfelt, private, and frank discussion with your receptionist about the changes in her behavior. For most people, this is the toughest part. What matters now is that you are genuine, factual, and caring.

She may break down, rise up, or block it all out. No matter what, you need to take the appropriate steps to make sure that: she's OK; she feels safe; and your expectations are clearly communicated.

Once you've openly talked about the outcomes you expect as a result of your conversation, you can anticipate positive changes. If you don't see any, it's time to either call in other resources to help you resolve the issues at hand or look at making permanent staffing changes to deal with the disharmony.

Dear Sue,

I'm a partner in a family practice that is bursting at the seams. There isn't enough storage, we're tripping over one another, and the place is a mess. The problem is, I'm the only one who seems to be bothered by the bedlam. Can you recommend a solution?

Disarrayed

Dear Disarrayed,

The undercurrent of chaos in your clinic isn't doing anybody any good. The pandemonium is not only distracting and frustrating, it's a poor reflection of the professionalism and medical expertise you and your colleagues provide. Moreover, you can be certain that your patients notice the clutter.

Creating a sense of order and calm is imperative, not only for your patients - who are already anxious - but for you.

I suggest you begin by doing a walk-through of the clinic, camera in hand, before opening one day. Gather photographic evidence of every eyesore you encounter, from the entryway to the examination rooms.

Next, scrutinize the snapshots and look for ways to reconfigure the furnishings and organize the clutter. Are there unused pieces of equipment that can be discarded or donated? Unnecessary files that can be destroyed? Old magazines that have piled up? Be open-minded with your observations, because you'll be sharing them with your coworkers.

Now it's time to recruit help. Since you likely aren't in the position to hire a professional organizer, call your staff and partners together. Armed with the photos, share your ideas for remedying the commotion rather than continuing to complain about it. Something as simple as moving the chairs in the waiting room can create more space and serenity.

Work in concert with your colleagues to create a strategy for dealing with the disorder of your space. Yes, it will take time and effort, but if you are all willing to pitch in­ - even for a few minutes a day - you can reclaim the peace and proficiency you and your patients deserve.   

Sue Jacques, The Civility CEO®, is a veteran forensic medical investigator turned corporate civility consultant, keynote speaker, and author. Jacques helps people and practices gain confidence, earn respect, and prosper through professionalism by creating courteous corporate cultures. She can be reached at info@TheCivilityCEO.com.

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Physicians Practice.