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In-Office Complaints Are a Sign of Trust

In-Office Complaints Are a Sign of Trust

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When a patient informs you or your staff that he is unhappy with a service, it is a sign of trust that the patient bestows on you and your office. The patient has hope that you are going to make an effort to resolve the problem. On the other hand, the patients who are unhappy with a service leave quietly and never return; they have already written you off. That trust either never existed, or had been breached along the way by how they were treated by the doctor or staff.

When a patient complains, listen intently and try to understand the exact nature of his issue. Sometimes, the answer is obvious and can be easily resolved. Other times, the issue is deeper than what is on the surface and further questioning is required. The point is: be patient and listen carefully. Repeat what the patient is telling you back to him to make sure you have a full understanding. Then when you are sure you understand their concerns, address the patient’s needs.

Sometimes, the patient is unhappy with how he was addressed by one of your staff, and he just needs to be heard. Staff can often be in a hurry, and not realize that they may have sounded short, or inadvertently ignored someone at the front counter. Other times, patients just need reassurance from a long procedure. The important thing to remember is that the sooner the issue is addressed, the less likely it will grow into a greater issue, and you may end up losing a good patient, or having a formal complaint filed against your office. Always remember the complaining patient is a patient that trusts your care and that you will do something to resolve the issue. If the complaint seems a little absurd to you, kindly tell the patient that you would like to think it over for a day or two and get back to them. Mark it on your calendar with the patient sitting there so they know you will get back with them at the agreed time. Sometimes, a little time will help shed more light on the patient’s side of the complaint so you can find a suitable solution. Once you made your decision, call the patient to address his complaint and determine if you have found an agreeable plan to resolve it. In most cases, the patient will usually agree and continue with your services.

When a complaint cannot be resolved, and a mutual trust is broken, the peer review process provides a means of settling disputes without the costs of litigation, and the time involved when dealing with an already overcrowded court docket. Peer review is just one of the many benefits as a member of organized dentistry. Peer review can resolve disputes in an impartial and efficient manner and help to maintain our profession to highest standards.

The ADA offers a variety of resources for state and local peer review programs, including guidelines, webinars, a manual, flyer, brochure and mediation checklist at For more information on how a dentist can navigate the peer review system and what can be expected from it, How the Dental Peer Review Program Works [PDF], or contact your state or local dental society.

Dr. Hodapp is a general dentist in Houston, Texas and is the chairman of the Greater Houston Dental Society Peer Review Committee. His article was originally published in the May 2019, Volume 90, No. 9 issue of the Journal of the Greater Houston Dental Society, and is reprinted with permission from the Greater Houston Dental Society.