Dealing with Poor Patient Feedback at Your Medical Practice

February 28, 2013

There is bound to be, at some point, some negative feedback. The key is to deal with it well, learn from it, and move on.

No matter how much you practice my tried and true customer service from the H.E.A.R.T. there is bound to be, at some point, some negative feedback. The key is to deal with it well, learn from it, and move on.  Today, I will review some examples of negative feedback and some basic ways to deal with it.

First understand that negative feedback, although sometimes feels like a punch in the gut, is really an opportunity to learn and grow. Perhaps more importantly it is an opportunity to better serve your patients, your staff, and even yourself.

Major types/routes of negative feedback:

1. E-mail: Perhaps a patient felt rushed, billed incorrectly, or that they were treated rudely by the receptionist and sends an e-mail to the clinic. Many people that are uncomfortable with face-to-face confrontations feel they can express themselves better via e-mail.

2. Facebook/Twitter: Disgruntled patients can also leave negative feedback they wish the world to see on Facebook fan pages and if your clinic is savvy enough to be “tweeting,” negative feedback can be tweeted to followers about a particular clinic, provider, staff member, or situation.

3. Google Review: That pesky “Google Places” is very handy for keeping you at the top of a search engine, but it also allows yet another forum for people to right terrible things about you.

4. Face-to-face: Those patients that don’t mind a little face to face confrontation, may stand in your waiting room or exam room and stomp their feet and let you know if they feel they have had a negative experience.

One important pre-step to making it better is to appoint someone in your office to deal with these issues. You may be tempted for the provider or the office manager to deal with negative feedback, and it may be true that they are the most calm and level-headed people available.  But if your office manager, CEO, or provider/owner is not the best person to deal with it, appoint someone else in the clinic to be the messenger. Often times a solution is accepted based on the delivery.

Other Steps to help make it better for the patient and for you:

1. Don’t delete it. Let’s repeat that, Don’t delete negative comments, tweets, e-mails, in the same way you wouldn’t shove someone out of the office if they were trying to convey their negative experience to you. When you delete negative feedback, it doesn’t go away; often times it comes back tenfold because in addition to the initial transgression, you are now “hiding it.”

2. Listen and understand from the patient’s perspective, also known as, putting yourself in their shoes.

3. Apologize, apologize, apologize. “I am sorry you had that experience, please contact us at (insert e-mail here) and let us help make this better for you” will go a long way in a public forum. In an e-mail/face-to-face approach, same story, just make the verbiage appropriate for one-on-one communication.

4. Offer a solution AND ensure them that it will never happen again. Notice I didn’t ask you to ask the patient what would rectify the situation, try offering solutions will rectify the situation for the patient and are palatable to you to ensure you keep control of the situation.

5. Thank them. Once the fire has died down, thank the person that brought the negative feedback to you. Literally write them a thank-you card, e-mail, etc., for bringing the issue to your attention and helping improve your clinic for your staff, patients, and for you.

When to call in back up

Call me optimistic, but even in this litigious day and age, I believe that making an effort to rectify the situation prior to getting attorneys involved is the right choice. Often times, I think a situation is escalated by bringing in an attorney, when simply a little TLC is in order.   

Seems pretty simple, next time you get a little negative feedback thrown at you, take a step back, a deep breath, and accept the learning opportunity that is presented to you.