4 tips to handle unhappy patients

Doctor with patient
Listening with empathy can help solve patient complaints.

What doctor hasn’t faced a patient who was angry, upset or frustrated? It’s what physicians do to respond to patient complaints that makes all the difference.

Given how poor communication skills could hurt both patient satisfaction scores and finances, more healthcare providers are putting a higher priority on physician empathy training. And it starts with a doctor listening with empathy to a patient’s story, according to an article from AMA Wire. Empathetic listening helps doctors to communicate more effectively and improve both physician and patient satisfaction.

Take the case of an internist who got an email from a patient’s wife who complained that the practice’s off-hours care was “lousy.” She had trouble getting care for her husband, who has chronic congestive heart failure, on nights and weekends. To resolve the issue, the doctor asked for an in-person meeting with the patient and spouse. Here are the steps to follow, according to the article:

Remember the ultimate goal. Think about what you might say in advance and remind yourself of the goal of the discussion. In the internist’s case, he wanted to know how he could better support his patient and the caregiver spouse.

Pay attention to the patient's words. Be sure your body language shows you are listening carefully. As the patient speaks, acknowledge that you are listening by nodding but not interrupting.

Reflect back on what the patient said to show you have understood the problem.

Respond. In this case, the doctor explained some of the actions he had taken to ensure that patients have access to care, such as the practice’s on-call system and the electronic patient portal. Explain how your practice works and ways you may be able to address a patient’s concerns.

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