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LEAPing to Better Complaint Management in the Healthcare Sector

Dealing with customer dissatisfaction is a reality in every business, and healthcare is no different. Even healthcare providers who are extremely diligent about patient experience and satisfaction will most likely encounter patient complaints on occasion. For this reason, healthcare providers should implement a complaint process that all staff members can understand and follow. All team members should be prepared to manage patient complaints promptly and according to an agreed protocol.

When a complaint occurs, providers and staff should respond calmly and empathetically while reassuring the patient that someone is available to help resolve the problem or issue. One simple set of recommendations for complaint management is a common customer service strategy called LEAP, which stands for:

  • Listen: Stop what you are doing and give your undivided attention to the patient. Do not argue with the patient or interrupt with explanations. Repeat back to the patient to affirm your understanding of their complaint or concern.
  • Empathise: Identify the patient’s emotions and offer empathy. For example, “You must feel frustrated that you had to wait so long.”
  • Apologise: All healthcare professionals have a duty of candour – a professional responsibility to be honest with patients when something goes wrong with their treatment or care. This includes apologising to the patient. An apology can go a long way, particularly if a patient has a legitimate complaint. However, even if the validity of the complaint isn’t clear, it is possible to apologise without admitting wrongdoing. For example, “I’m sorry that your appointment didn’t go as you expected.” An apology is not an admission of liability!
  • Plan: Suggest solutions you can offer or strategies to resolve the issue. If you can’t come to an immediate agreement, assure the patient that an appropriate staff member will follow up on the issue. Let the patient know when they can expect to hear further.

The provider or staff member managing the complaint should document the issue, any resolution offered, and the commitment of any follow-up with the patient. The healthcare provider will need this information if the patient reports the complaint to the General Medical Council or subsequently files a medical negligence claim. Further, the information documented from patient complaints can serve as an educational opportunity for providers as well as the basis for quality improvement initiatives.

In some instances, patients will not complain directly to a healthcare provider or staff member; rather, they might voice their complaints about treatment or services on the internet. To address online complaints, healthcare providers should have a mechanism for monitoring their online presence and managing negative, offensive, or inaccurate information.

If you receive a complaint from a patient, or a patient suffers an adverse event, please call the PMP medicolegal helpline as soon as possible. The PMP medicolegal helpline team, provided by Clyde & Co LLP (a law firm), can assist customers in preparing an appropriate response.

Information correct at time of publication June 2022

This document does not constitute legal or medical advice and should not be construed as rules or establishing a standard of care. We recommend that you seek independent legal and/or professional advice in relation to your legal or medical obligations or rights. Premium Medical Protection Limited is the owner of this material and its contents are protected by copyright law © 2022. All such rights are reserved.
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