A Manage My Practice Classic: Why I Can’t Wait to Hear Patient Complaints


Patient Complaints in a Medical OfficeI have not always been excited to hear patient complaints. As a younger manager I absolutely dreaded when a patient wanted to speak to me. I felt that I had little to offer a patient who expressed anger or frustration with something that had happened and I was very impatient to get past the complaint and get back to my “job.”

Now, I can’t wait to hear patients’ complaints. Complaints are the only opportunity managers have to understand the patient’s experience and hear in their own words what went wrong for them. By listening carefully, you have the potential to accomplish several goals.

  1. You can heal the patient’s complaint, first by making sure the patient feels heard, and second by addressing the problem if something needs to be done.
  2. You can gain insight into an experience in the practice and dissect it to see why the problem occurred and what can be done to fix it.
  3. You can model to the staff how important patient complaints are and how seriously you take them.
  4. You can retain the patient for the practice, and hopefully make them a fan who will recommend your group to friends and family.

In the past it might have taken a lot for a patient to complain to the manager as many patients will not risk disenfranchising a physician they really like. Today is the advent of the consumerist patient, and people are feeling empowered to complain about problems in healthcare ( a good thing!) Healthcare managers need to step up to the plate to meet them and make sincere attempts to cultivate a positive patient experience from beginning to end.

Here’s how I suggest you listen to patients:


  • Instruct staff to prioritize patients calling and asking for the manager. Unless you are in the middle of a meeting, take all patient calls as they come in. If you cannot take the call, ask the staff to make sure to document the best time to return the call and the number. Prioritize returning the call.
  • You can delegate patient complaints to subordinate managers once you feel completely confident that they can handle the complaints appropriately, but you should continue to take calls periodically and check complaint documentation to make sure everything is going as you intend it to.
  • Listen to the patient until they are done talking. Apologize and let them know that their experience is not what you want for patients. Go back over the complaint and ask questions to make sure you understand what happened.
  • Tell the patient you will investigate the complaint and give them a definite date and time when you will call them back to report on what you’ve found.
  • Talk to all staff and physicians involved in the incident. Call the patient back and share any information that is appropriate. Most patients will be satisfied to receive a call back and hear that their complaint has been discussed.
  • Offer your direct phone number to patients and invite them to call you if they have any further problems. A nice touch is to invite patients to ask for you when they come in next for an appointment so you can meet them face-to-face.

Posted in: A Career in Practice Management, Amazing Customer Service, Day-to-Day Operations, Leadership, Manage My Practice Classics, Practice Marketing

Leave a Comment (8) ↓


  1. Dawn Lunde January 31, 2013

    Attention-grabbing headline and great information.

  2. Virginia Vickie Rocha Ortega February 1, 2013

    True . 1. Train Staff 2. Care 3. Know what can be offered as correction for them to stay 4. Follow up on it ( don’t allow another phone call from same patient with no activity or change to it) 1-2 3 months down the line. There are alot of patient issues that can take place in healthcare offices. Incorrect plan , dx, recodeing for payment type things is a great one, a discount, a billing, refund , timly worked.
    Being willing to work with them in this keeps them as your patient, brings monthly revenue. It’s hand with caring all over again. VRO

    • Mary Pat Whaley February 3, 2013

      Thanks for weighing in, Vickie.

      Best wishes,

      Mary Pat

  3. David B February 3, 2013

    Nice article & well written. Ill include my broader thoughts on the topic of role clarity & accountability as a hotel manager & clinic director.

    1. Patients don’t want to have to talk to management to get things done. Your patients want you to track complaints, continuously improve your operation to reduce the top complaints, empower your employees to listen empathize repeat back & offer options for addressing their problem. Your employees can learn to solve any problem you can solve (and research shows that they are more satisfied with a front line person getting it right the first time) if you set some consistent guidelines.

    2. Managers are accountable over continuous improvement of process, auditing the service of staff, confirming the documentation on your CRM tool (if you don’t have one email me for options), & follow up calls on complaints after the fact to confirm satisfaction. Managers exist primarily to manage process improvement & personalized service every patient every time

    • Mary Pat Whaley February 3, 2013

      Hi David,

      Thanks for your excellent points.

      #1 Empowering your staff to solve problems is a wonderful thing!
      #2 I have been looking for an EMR with a CRM – do you know of any, or are all CRMs free-standing?

      Best wishes,

      Mary Pat

  4. Bonny Cain February 19, 2013

    Excellent article. Will use this to improve customer service skills with the staff.