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Managing Patient Complaints About an Associate Dentist: Best Practices for Practice Owners

Updated: Jun 17

Patient complaints are an inevitable part of running a dental practice, and how these complaints are addressed can significantly impact the reputation and success of the practice. When a patient complains about an Associate Dentist in your practice, it’s essential to handle the situation with professionalism, empathy, and a commitment to resolving the issue. This complaint may be made directly to the Associate or to the Practice on the phone, in person or as a negative review online. In this article, we will explore best practices for Practice Owners and Practice Managers when facing patient complaints made to the practice about an Associate Dentist.

Make time: It is importantto speak with the patient as soon as possible or at least schedule a time with them to do this. They must feel like this is a priority for you.

Listen Attentively: When a patient raises a concern or complaint about an Associate Dentist, Practice Owners should actively listen without interruption. Let the patient share their perspective, concerns, and feelings openly. This demonstrates that the practice values patient feedback and is committed to addressing their concerns. It is important they feel heard.

Express Empathy: Show empathy and understanding towards the patient’s feelings. Acknowledge their frustration or disappointment and reassure them that their concerns will be taken seriously. Empathy goes a long way in calming the patient and establishing a positive rapport.

Thank the Patient: Thank the patient for bringing their complaint to your attention. Patient feedback, even when negative, offers an opportunity for improvement and growth. By acknowledging their contribution to practice improvement, you reinforce the patient’s role as a valued partner in their dental journey.

Involve and Support the Associate Dentist: Reach out to the Associate Dentist involved in the complaint to gather their perspective on the situation. Encourage open and honest communication and ensure that they feel supported throughout the process. Their insights can provide valuable context to help address the complaint effectively. If the complaint is related to the Associate Dentist’s behaviour or treatment, involve them in the resolution process. If the Associate wishes to resolve the situation themselves and you both agree this is appropriate, discuss how this may be best approached. Open communication between the Practice Owner and the Associate Dentist is essential for understanding their perspective and addressing the issue collaboratively. The patient may choose to leave the practice but the Associate will likely remain so they need to feel supported through the process.

Conduct a Thorough Investigation: Conduct a thorough investigation to gather all relevant facts and perspectives. This may involve reviewing patient records, examining treatment notes, and speaking to any witnesses who were present during the visit. A comprehensive investigation is crucial for reaching a fair resolution.

Address the Issue Promptly: Timely resolution is crucial in maintaining patient trust and satisfaction. Address the complaint promptly and inform the patient that their concerns are being taken seriously and are being investigated.

Apologise and Take Responsibility: If the investigation confirms that an issue occurred, offer a sincere apology to the patient on behalf of the practice. Taking responsibility for any shortcomings shows that you are committed to rectifying the situation and improving the patient’s experience moving forward.

Offer a Solution: In addition to apologising, offer a practical solution that addresses the patient’s concerns. This could involve re-evaluating their treatment, scheduling a follow-up appointment with a different dentist, or providing additional support to address their specific needs.

Implement Preventive Measures: Use the complaint as an opportunity to implement preventive measures that can help avoid similar issues in the future. This could include additional training for Associate Dentists, refining patient communication protocols, or updating practice policies.

Provide Honest Feedback: When discussing the complaint with the Associate Dentist, provide honest and constructive feedback. Share the patient’s concerns and discuss ways to prevent similar issues in the future. Focus on improvement rather than placing blame and asking reflective questions over telling them what they ‘should’ do or ‘should’ have done .

Follow Up: After addressing the patient’s complaint, follow up to ensure that they are satisfied with the resolution. This step reinforces your commitment to patient satisfaction and helps build trust and loyalty. When a situation is handled well, you may find the patient’s commitment to the practice actually increases.

Document the Resolution: Maintain thorough documentation of the patient’s complaint, the steps taken to address it, and the resolution. This documentation can be valuable for reference and accountability in the future. Depending on the situation, it may of course be necessary for the Associate to involve their Indemnity provider in the resolution process.

In conclusion, addressing patient complaints about an Associate Dentist requires a combination of empathy, transparency, and effective communication. Practice Owners or Managers should approach complaints as opportunities for improvement and growth. By actively listening to patients, investigating thoroughly, involving the Associate Dentist, and taking appropriate corrective action, you can demonstrate your commitment to patient satisfaction and create a positive patient experience that strengthens the practice’s reputation. Complaints are often times of increased stress and anxiety for the Associate Dentist so they are great opportunities to strengthen the relationship with them through understanding, support and leadership.


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