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Keys to your practice: Patient complaints

How to manage them better for a busier practice


March 16, 2015
By Angelo Santin


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As a general rule you don’t want to be focused too much on the negative experiences in your practice.   Instead, look for the positives that are happening within the practice on a daily basis.

You also want to strive to have the best systems and procedures to ultimately minimize negative events experienced by your patients. However, if you’ve practised long enough you will run into situations where people may not be pleased – it just happens. Let’s take a closer look on how to better manage patient complaints, which can lead to a more fruitful practice.

Patient feedback
Have you ever been to your dentist where you weren’t fully happy with the experience? I know this has happened to me before, and not just at the dentist. This also happens in chiropractic offices all the time. If negative experiences are happening and people are not fully pleased, would you not want to know about it? The easiest way to have patients share this information is to set the tone that you are open to feedback right from the beginning. Just let them know you welcome their thoughts as it will help you take care of them better. Another time to do this is at their progress exam. After you have performed your tests and done your consult, ask them if they have any feedback, questions or concerns about anything in regards to their care. It’s a basic ingredient to any successful business.

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One hundred per cent present
A patient may not always tell you verbally that there is a problem. They may let you know in other ways. Body posture, lack of eye contact and missing appointments may be non-verbal clues that something is amiss. If you are not one hundred per cent present in the room with the patient, then you will likely miss many of these signs. It is therefore necessary that before you
enter the room clear your head of all that’s gone on in the day. I like to pause and take a breath before I go in with the next patient – this refreshes my mind and prepares me for a new experience. Allow the patient to have your undivided attention. As the complaint happens, it is critical to keep your mouth closed and do not interrupt them. Many make this mistake in everyday conversation. Let them finish, take it in, pause, and then begin to speak. You may even need to get the patient to come back in order to properly think through and address their concerns.

Physical vs. non-physical
I find the problems not related to their condition easy to resolve. These are things like appointment times, parking, wait times. I find them easy because it’s in our nature as chiropractors and human beings to serve our patients to the best of our abilities and these types of problems only require a quick fix decision to do the right thing. The more difficult ones are when patients are either not happy after an adjustment or not getting results. Here you want to again listen intently to what the patient is saying, and before you give a verbal explanation, at least palpate their spine and see what is going on. If the matter requires more attention, set up a progress exam at a later time where you can run the appropriate tests to see what they are suggesting. Once you have read their spine and reviewed the tests, you can make a new plan of action that is based on something other than your and the patient’s subjective opinions.  

It’s ok to let go
Ten per cent of the people will create 90 per cent of your problems. If you feel like you have given your all and taken the time necessary to address the patient’s concerns and it is still not working out, then you have the right to let that patient go. Just do so in a professional manner in accordance with your governing body’s standards. In my earlier years, I found this difficult to do as I thought the practice would suffer. The truth is, the opposite will happen. Letting the few go who just don’t match with our personality and beliefs can actually be a practice builder. It will allow you to put all your energy toward creating an even better experience for the people who want to be in your clinic.

Most chiropractors don’t have a patient generating problem; they have a patient retention problem. By professionally and artfully managing patient complaints better, you will likely minimize the numbers leaving your practice, allowing you to serve more people for longer periods of time. Always remember, when it comes to the practice, you need to work from the inside out.


Angelo Santin, DC, operates a busy subluxation-based family practice in Thunder Bay, Ont., and is president of the Thunder Bay Chiropractic Society. Dr. Santin is also a Carter Universal proficiency-rated chiropractic coach. He can be reached at angelosantin@gmail.com or 807-344-4606.


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