By WO advisory board member Charlotte Tlachac, OD, FAAO, of Alameda, California
Everyone makes mistakes. The goals for every practice should be to minimize these mistakes by having systems in place that prevent them from occurring and to have a plan to rectify the error and maintain a great relationship with the patient.
Create rules to avoid patient migration when you or your team make a mistake. Instill this sequence of events into the office practice philosophy so that each member of the team can start the process at the first sign of justified patient unhappiness.
- Listen and do not interrupt while the patient states the problem.
- Apologize for the mistake. The simple truth is most people calm down immediately upon hearing “I’m sorry; we made a mistake.” Review the order and compare to exam findings to be sure it wasn’t a simple transcription error. Check that upgrades paid for compares exactly to what was ordered.
- Accept responsibility for the fix. “We will make this right for you.” Ask the patient what h or she thinks is a fair solution. Very often, patients want much less than you’re fearing they’ll demand. Most of the time, they don’t want a full refund. They want eyewear that works.
- Get involved, when necessary. In most cases, your staff should be able to do all this for you. It can soothe ruffled feathers if the doctor steps in to apologize and restate or amend the proposed solution.
- Thank patients for their input. When you’ve completed the fix, thank patients for understanding and giving you the chance to improve your service.
- Follow up with personal contact. If the patient was particularly unhappy throughout all phases of the interaction, a handwritten note from the doctor can work wonders. If the patient has threatened to leave the practice, tells others not to see you, writes a bad online review, etc., a phone call directly from the doctor may be required. Personal attention indicating that the doctor really cares about what happens to each and every patient impresses upon the patient that he or she has not been ignored.
Sometimes a patient is not practical or insists on ordering something against your advice. First, make sure you document it, and also realize it can be more difficult to reach a happy solution. However, the same initial steps can work. Be careful not to accept blame. Here’s some suggested phrasing: “I’m sorry you’re not happy with your choice…how can we help you fix it?” You can still offer a discount for the fix, but make it clear that the patient will have a fiscal responsibility for his or her ill-advised decision.
If a patient is irrational and won’t be calmed down or satisfied with anything you offer, it may be time to suggest that your office may not be the best place for this patient. “Our office practices do not appear to be a good match for your expectations. I think that another doctor may be better able to meet your requirements in the future. We would be happy to forward your records to another office.”
In any case, have your staff document everything thoroughly. This includes writing down the complaint or problem, the proposed solution and the patient’s agreement to accept that. Doing so in front of patients helps to cement the idea that they are being heard. And all of us want to be heard.