Unhappy Patient? Consider these Steps

April 1, 2016
DMD Staff

No matter how good their dental skills or chair-side manner are, all dentists will have to deal with some unhappy patients. While some may be determined to pursue malpractice litigation, and while others may be completely unjustified in their complaints, there are steps you can take to keep their unhappiness from escalating.

No matter how good their dental skills or chair-side manner are, all dentists will have to deal with some unhappy patients. While some may be determined to pursue malpractice litigation, and while others may be completely unjustified in their complaints, there are steps you can take to keep their unhappiness from escalating.

Is the patient’s concern justified?

Even if your unhappy patient is the chronic complainer type, don’t disregard the possibility that they have a legitimate beef. Did you perform the dental services according to your own high standards? If not, consider an apology, and strongly consider if there is an additional service you can provide that would ameliorate the problem. Many cases of patient unease can be satisfied simply by you taking responsibility for them, owning up to them, and correcting them.

Is the patient chronically unhappy with your services?

Some patients may not be interested in pursuing a malpractice judgment, but may simply seem to find some joy in complaining a lot. First of all, always remain calm with such patients, and if their complaint is about a member of your staff, make sure you hear the patient out, listen carefully to their concerns, and document your conversation, as well as any services that were given to the patient, as fully as possible. In the case of some patients, you may want to consider gently suggesting that they seek out another dentist. You might both be better off if the patient finds a fresh start.

Consider Peer Review

Most state dental societies offer peer review panels to resolve disagreements before they get too far along in the legal process. Peer review is a voluntary, informal mediation/arbitration process that allows patients to have their case reviewed by another dentist in the local dental society at no cost to the dentist or patient. It won’t preclude a patient for taking later action, and the findings from peer review won’t be filed with the state dental board, but the opportunity for a professional mediator to hear the complaint can discourage further action. At the very least, it can prepare you for exactly what you may face should the patient pursue further action.

A mediator will interview you and the patient, and a committee will conduct a clinical exam and present their findings. In some states, the committee will also suggest a course of corrective action. As part of the peer review process, no punitive damages or fines can be issued, but the committee may recommend a refund for the services rendered to the patient.

Legal action may be necessary and unavoidable in some situations. But sometimes it can be avoided through simple practices such as open communication and mediation. The very worst thing you can do is simply ignore an unhappy patient. Take proactive steps, and you may find the problem addressed before it gets to the legal system.

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