How To Respond to an Angry Patient Complaint

by Susan Keane Baker

An angry complaint can ruin your day. You have to spend extra time dealing with the patient. Extra time spent listening to your colleague’s side of the story. Extra time spent thinking about the situation and how you could have responded differently. Here are some steps for handling angry complaints so that they don’t consume more time and energy than necessary.

  • Take the patient to a quiet area. In a low, calm tone of voice, say to the person, “Let’s step over here to talk. That way, we won’t be interrupted.” The angry patient with an audience will be less likely to accept your point of view.
  • Let the patient speak his mind without interruption. Otherwise, you may fix the problem, but not fix the relationship. You may be encouraging the patient to embellish and repeat his story to others, as he hasn’t been heard by you.
  • Avoid rationalizing.There are usually a few oft-repeated rationalizations that come immediately to mind when a patient has a complaint. “It’s the insurance company’s fault.” Or, “this is the way we’ve always done it.” Put yourself in the patient’s shoes for just a moment and consider whether your rationalization is an explanation or an excuse.
  • Respectfully use the patient’s name in your reply. When a person is very angry, using his or her name in a respectful way can ease the situation. Using the person’s name in a condescending way fuels anger.
  • Demonstrate your understanding. If sincere, use the “feel, felt, found” technique. For example: “I understand how you feel. I’ve felt that way too when I’ve received a bill that didn’t seem to make any sense. What I’ve found is that writing down my questions for the billing specialist helps us both understand where the misunderstandings are and resolve the problem without anyone’s feelings being hurt.”

Using these strategies will help you resolve conflict more positively, and give you peace of mind that you handled the situation in a professional, dignified manner. And that’s what frees up your mind and your time for more positive, productive activities.

Copied with permission of the author: Susan K. Baker
Speaker on Patient Satisfaction and Handling Patient Complaints


Editors Note:  Keep in mind that CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) has issued specific requirements for US healthcare organizations and their representatives which must be followed when responding to patient complaints and grievances that cannot be immediately resolved.