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4 steps to help manage unhappy dental patients


Like any other business that deals directly with consumers, dental practices sometimes encounter individuals who are unhappy with the service they receive. These patients may have unreasonable expectations. They may be chronic complainers or they may be reacting to actual shortcomings in customer service. Whatever the case may be, the response by the dentist and team should always be to appease the patient, turning a negative into a positive.

When dealing with dissatisfied patients, follow these steps:

1. Start by listening

Before drawing conclusions or attempting to resolve an issue, you need to hear firsthand what has caused the complaint, from the patient’s point of view. In doing so, you will be gathering needed information about the problem itself and also about the patient’s personality and intentions. You’ll also send a powerful, positive message to the patient that you are genuinely concerned that a problem occurred and are personally committed to resolving it.

2. Control your emotions

Your self-control may be put to the test if a patient suggests that your professional skills are deficient, or that your front desk coordinator (who has the patience of a saint) was extremely rude. If attacked, fight the urge to counterattack. Remind yourself that if the patient ends up satisfied and stays with your practice, you win.

3. Identify possible solutions

Based on what you hear from the patient (and, out of earshot of the patient, what staff members have to say about the situation), declare your intention to come up with a solution that will make the patient happy. Then discuss the possibilities, making it clear that you want to hear the patient’s thoughts about what may work best. Either before or after proposing various options, ask the patient, “What would you like us to do, Ms. Jones?” The answer to this question may be your best course of action, as long as it’s realistic and not too costly to the practice.

4. Work with the patient to solve the problem

Some dissatisfied patients will want nothing more than acknowledgement and an apology. Others will hold out for more, such as a changed protocol, waived fee or some other concession. Every case is different, and you’ll often need to weigh the cost against what the practice may gain. Generally speaking, you’ll want to prevent the patient from leaving the practice.

If the best solution is not obvious to both parties, present several options. Talk them over, being sure to underline the message that you understand the patients’ frustration, have their well-being at heart, and want to make them happy.


By following these steps, you will usually be able to keep the situation from escalating. In fact, when patients see that you and your team are committed to meeting their needs in every regard, they are likely to end up more loyal to your practice than ever. Handle a negative situation skillfully and you can turn it into a positive experience for everyone.

Editor's Note: To learn more about the impact of leadership on increasing practice production, attend one of Dr. Levin’s upcoming seminars. Pick a convenient date and location at www.levingroup.com/gpseminars. Save $100 when you register 30 days in advance for any 2-day seminar.

Editor's Note: Photo by Keith Ellwood

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