As a nurse practitioner entrepreneur, you need to understand how to deal with patient complaints. As an employed nurse practitioner, typically you do not need to worry about this because your manager handles this. Unfortunately for the practice owner, especially one of a niche side practice with a limited budget, you do not have the luxury of a manager handling complaints, you will need to do this yourself.
When you start and operate a new practice, you will run into complaints. This will happen, so you need to expect it. You need to understand what to do when a patient complains about some aspect of your business.
Remember, you are trying to provide value to your patients… Your brand should deliver an experience. You want the interactions to be as smooth and positive as possible, but something will go wrong.
The first step in dealing with a patient complaint is simply preventing it from happening to begin with. How do you do this? By providing value, being courteous, being caring, practicing safely, having competitive pricing, and following up regularly with your patients. If you do these things, then patient complaints will be minimal, but they still will happen.
What happens to cause a complaint? Typically a mistake. Mistakes happen when you have a business, it is inevitable, especially during the first 3-6 months as you figure out all the processes within your business. I would estimate that 90% of the complaints with all my practices have to do with a billing issue.
For example, I accidentally have sent duplicate invoices to patients in my telemedicine practice. I have accidentally charged my men’s health patients for services they were not utilizing. I have failed to issue the correct receipt to a medical cannabis patient a few times. Typically, these billing mistakes are nothing serious and can be easily resolved with a simple refund.
You need to understand that people usually only complain when money is involved. Therefore, if you have a patient complaint that involves a monetary transactional issue, then simply just issue a refund or provide them with free services. I do this all the time at my men’s health practice.
For example, I had a patient who was paying for HCG but he was actually not coming in for the injections. He did not want the HCG but somehow his monthly subscription charge included the HCG. To this day, I still have no idea how that happened, but it went on for almost 6 months… The guy was angry and complained… Rightfully so! I would be too! I immediately refunded him the money and gave him a free month of treatment. This was more than he was expecting and resulted in a 5-star Google review! A win win for everyone. Google reviews are free marketing and you should push for them as much as possible by the way.
If the complaint revolves around patient care, then you might have a more serious issue at hand. Is the complaint more benign in nature such as a patient thinking you were rude? If this is the case, apologize, offer them a free service, and move on. This will resolve most benign complaints.
On the other hand, was the patient harmed in any way? Was something missed? Depending on the gravity of the situation, you need to consult with your lawyer and/or malpractice carrier or try make it right with the patient. If something bad happens, be caring, assist them with follow up and referrals, genuinely care about their well being and offer assistance if needed!
I worked for an ER group that had a policy that if an adverse event happened to a patient that they believed would result in a malpractice suit, they immediately approached the patient and offered them an “apology” payment. This was typically around $10,000-$20,000 and required the patient to waive their right to sue. You would be amazed at how many people took this offer.
Patient complaints will happen. Expect this as a practice owner. The best way to avoid a complaint is by preventing it in the first place, but you also need to be aware of how to deal with them. The biggest complaints you will hear revolve around money. The easiest resolution is by issuing them a refund and being done with it. The last thing you want to happen is a frivolous complaint to the board of nursing… So make sure you handle that complaint!