How to Create Positive Outcomes From Patient Dissatisfaction

handling patient dissatisfaction

We all have to deal with a patient who is unhappy or dissatisfied on occasion. To better handle these situations, I always try and remember a very important formula: E-R=C. Expectations minus Reality equals Conflict.

When a patient is upset, unhappy, disappointed, or angry, it is because reality has not matched what they were expecting. With this in mind, the best way to minimize dealing with patients who are upset is to create clear and attainable expectations.

by Dr. Lee Ann Brady

handling patient dissatisfaction Meeting Patient Expectations After Dissatisfaction

In the world of clinical dentistry, this is about being very thorough about uncovering risk factors and then increasing the skill with which we communicate these concerns. We can then help patients own their risk factors.

With all of this, we still will always have times we need to manage patient upset. Over the years, I have learned a few keys to managing these situations and creating positive outcomes.

First, step into the situation instead of away. We all ‘know’ when someone is upset, but our human tendency is to try and ignore it or sweep it under the rug unless the person very directly confronts it. I’ve learned the best approach is to step in and ask people “Is everything okay?” or “I sense you are disappointed (upset, frustrated). Is that something you want to discuss?” Allowing people to continue to worry things over in their head means they will build it up to be bigger than it is. This make their upset even harder to manage.

Second, listen openly and don’t have it be about ‘me.’ I always default to being defensive and protecting what I did or said first. I think we all have that tendency. I have to remind myself to try and leave that out of the conversation. I need to listen to their perspective and respect that, irregardless, they expected something different. Often, simply being their advocate for the next steps to correct their unhappiness is all I have to do.

Third, if I believe the patient does hold me responsible, I have to ask the one question that always releases the tension: “What would feel fair as a way to resolve this?” Now, I know that has some of you stressed just thinking about it.

The times I have used this question, whether in regards to redoing dentistry or giving a patient their money or the fee for dentistry back, I have always been surprised. What patients ask for is generally fair and always more reasonable then I expected.

Do you struggle with confrontation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments! 

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