The Intake

Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

Top 6 patient complaints and how to respond

By addressing these 6 common patient complaints, you can improve patient satisfaction, attract new patients, and streamline operations.

Patient frustrated as slow response times become one of their patient complaints

At a Glance

  • Address common patient complaints such as long wait times, slow response times, lack of provider availability, and more.
  • Give patients ample face-to-face time with providers during appointments so they don’t feel rushed.
  • Streamline scheduling and payment processes to increase patient satisfaction and avoid billing issues.

As patients, we’ve all been in this familiar setting — sitting in chairs with hard plastic arms, pens dangling from our clipboards, and a continuous background symphony of ringing phones and elevator music. Remembering what it feels like to be the patient and putting yourself in their shoes can be valuable.

From the moment patients first engage with your office until the moment they’ve completed checkout, every single move (and minute) is under scrutiny. As an independent practice, it's important to consider how you can improve patients’ impressions of your clinic and minimize patient complaints.

It can help you identify areas in your practice that need improvement and address patient complaints head-on.

What are the 6 most common patient complaints?

Let’s look at 6 common areas of patient concern and discontent, from patient intake to diagnosis, outpatient care, and beyond. How does your practice measure up when it comes to providing quality care?

1. Long wait times

After patient registration, how long are patients typically expected to wait before seeing doctors at your practice? If back-ups and extended wait times are common, consider investigating the cause and finding better patient management solutions.

While many assume that a difficult or complex patient slows the system down, it serves your practice to look into the matter further. For example, smoothing the scheduling template and providing clinicians with appropriate blocks of time for each patient can prevent frequent delays, even for urgent care clinics.

It’s crucial to keep patients abreast of increased wait times. When given updates, they are more likely to feel in control and can adjust their schedules to minimize any inconvenience.

While you may be stuck at the office all day, your patients — especially those with an illness — should not have to be. Consider how your patients' wait times affect the remainder of their day. They might face issues with transportation, child care, medication/eating schedules, caregiver availability, and other existing health issues.Consider offering secure video visits (telehealth) to give patients the convenience of seeing their providers from wherever they are.

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2. Slow office response times

Outside of appointment scheduling, are you effectively communicating with patients? Many practices field patient inquiries and respond to them via phone, email, or an online healthcare portal.

For example, do you have a policy regarding response time? Provide patients with a reasonable estimate of return contact (e.g., within 48 hours) to put their minds at ease. This allows providers to prioritize and triage patients while being transparent and honest about turnaround time.

Another important consideration is whether patients find it easy to communicate with you. If an online system to access patient records is difficult to use or a patient can never get through via phone, patients will have a subpar experience with your practice. Patient engagement will suffer in the long run.

Patients want to feel supported by their providers at all times. They often need help with important matters such as:

  • Symptom management questions
  • Medication issues
  • Disability forms
  • Questions regarding therapy
  • Access to patient data or patient history information
  • Patient education materials

3. Lack of provider availability

While accessible communication platforms are a preferred method for non-pressing issues, patients like to know they can contact an MD/NP/RN directly in case of an urgent care medical situation or hospitalization.

Does your practice provide each patient access to this essential "lifeline?" Do you make patients aware of contact methods in advance?

For example, it's beneficial to quickly outline ways to contact the office for new patients and which one to choose, depending on urgency. Armed with this information, patients feel supported, connected, and able to collaborate with you on their healthcare needs. This is especially helpful after a new health care diagnosis.

4. Not enough time with the provider

Feeling rushed during an appointment with a healthcare provider is unacceptable to patients. Patient and provider time are equally valuable and should always be treated as such. After all, the patient is a paying customer. Patient satisfaction should be the ultimate goal of any practice.

To avoid rushing patients, consider allocating appropriate lengths of time based on anticipated patient needs and conditions. Patients should be given ample time for questions and summaries at the end of each visit.This also helps to ensure patient compliance with their treatment plan, as they are given time to state their understanding and/or areas of concern.

Patient Perspectives Report

5. A subpar checkout experience

In particular, 2 areas that often occur at the end of the typical appointment are key to reducing patient complaints — patient payment and future scheduling.

To ease the pressure at checkout and circumvent any issues of non-payment later, collect payments from patients up front. It may be as basic as asking: “How would you like to pay?” while making eye contact with the patient and stating their name politely but firmly.Your clinical support staff can record the amount due for the patient to read — or hand them an electronic tablet displaying all pertinent patent information and the amount that is due.

Ease of payment and lack of billing errors are expected by patients. ”

Your clinical support staff can record the amount due for the patient to read — or hand them an electronic tablet displaying all pertinent patent information and the amount that is due.

Patients expect ease of payment and a lack of billing errors. While mistakes are sometimes unavoidable in the complex system of insurance-based payer models, this is an area of increased patient frustration.

Take the time to balance your schedule so you can see new and existing patients again within the desired time frame. This is especially true for follow-ups with new patients. Once the patient has been seen in your office, the last thing they want to hear before leaving is that the first available appointment is 3 months away or more.

Consider offering other patient care delivery methods like telehealth that provide both the patient and provider more convenience for follow-up care.

6. Poor communication

Effective patient communication is vital in any quality healthcare setting. Poor communication can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction among patients. When patients feel that their concerns are not being heard or understood, it can result in a breakdown of trust between the patient and the healthcare provider.

Miscommunication can also lead to medical errors, misdiagnosis, and patient harm. For any medical practice, prioritizing clear and open communication is a matter of patient safety. The use of patient advocates can help smooth communication and prioritize more personalized medical care.

For patient recruitment, it’s important to clearly advertise or list the medical services available. If a potential patient is confused about what you offer, they may move on to another clinic.

How to respond to patient complaints

Responding to patient complaints in a timely and empathetic manner is crucial for maintaining patient satisfaction and trust. When a patient expresses dissatisfaction or raises concerns about patient experience with your medical practice, it's important to listen actively and acknowledge their feelings. Apologize for any inconvenience or misunderstanding and assure the patient that their feedback is valuable and will be addressed. Take any patient reviews seriously, and use them to improve the patient journey.

After acknowledging the complaint, take appropriate steps to investigate the issue and implement necessary changes to prevent similar problems in the future.

Communicate transparently with the patient about the actions being taken to address their concerns and follow up to ensure patient satisfaction. By handling patient complaints effectively, medical practices can demonstrate their commitment to providing exceptional patient care and better patient outcomes.Address these key areas, and you’ll not only reduce patient complaints — you’ll attract net-new patients, retain existing ones, and keep your practice running smoothly.

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Ashley Hay

Ashley is a freelance healthcare writer, editor, and public speaker with over a decade of nursing experience in several areas of pediatric and adult oncology.

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