Patient satisfaction is an important part of providing quality healthcare, and dissatisfaction with medical care may be a starting point for medical malpractice. When you receive a complaint regarding the healthcare that you have provided to a patient, how you handle the complaint may directly impact the potential for a malpractice claim. All providers should have a policy in place to address patient complaints.
Below are eight (8) recommendations regarding how to handle a patient complaint:
1. An individual should be assigned as the primary person to address patient complaints. This may be an office manager or a member of a risk management team.
2. All staff members should know to whom the patient complaint should be directed to, as well as what information constitutes a complaint that requires immediate attention or intervention. This should, at a minimum, include:
(a) written or verbal complaints regarding medical care;
(b) billing or payment complaints that involve concerns regarding clinical care; and
(c) complaints from third-party payors, medical boards, or governmental agencies.
3. Effective communication skills are essential when addressing a patient’s complaint. Patient complaints should be expressed with concern for the patient’s condition and wellbeing when addressing a patient’s complaint. Below are some suggestions regarding patient communication:
(a) never be adversarial or defensive;
(b) be an active listener and ask questions when appropriate;
(c) Avoid judgmental comments about patients and their families, or negative remarks about staff, physicians, or other providers.
4. All patient communication should be documented in the patients medical record. It is appropriate to quote the patient when documenting their concerns.
5. Keep letters of response to complaints concise and simple. A copy of the written response should be kept in the patient’s medical record.
6. When complaints involve clinical or treatment, the healthcare provider should be involved in addressing the complaint.
7. When a patient (or their attorney) request a copy of their medical records, this is usually a red flag for potential medical malpractice. The patient’s medical record should be reviewed in conjunction with these requests in an effort to assess the potential for medical malpractice litigation.
8. Healthcare providers should seek legal guidance when addressing patients complaints, formulating responses, and determining potential exposure to claims of malpractice.
Healthcare providers should have clear guidelines in place in order to determine how patient complaints should be handled, as well as how a response should be formulated.
Stuart J. Oberman, Esq.
Stuart J. Oberman is the founder and President of Oberman Law Firm. Mr. Oberman graduated from Urbana University and received his law degree from John Marshall Law School. Mr. Oberman has been practicing law for over 30 years, and before going into private practice, Mr. Oberman was in-house counsel for a Fortune 500 Company.
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