Patient Gripes One of the Top 10 Complaints

August 5, 2010
Michael Sheehan

Complaints about healthcare products and services were one of the Top 10 consumer complaints of 2009. Consumers reported healthcare providers for things such as misleading claims, unlicensed practitioners, long wait times and failure to deliver promised services.

Complaints about healthcare products and services were among the Top 10 consumer complaints in 2009, according to a survey out this week from the Consumer Federation of America and the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators. The two groups surveyed state and local consumer protection agencies to compile the list.

Complaints about healthcare products and services ranked No. 10 on the list, with consumers reporting products makers and marketers, and healthcare providers for things such as misleading product claims, unlicensed practitioners, long wait times and failure to deliver promised services.

Top 10 Consumer Complaints

Rank

Type of Complaint

1.

Auto

2.

Credit and/or Debt

3.

Home Improvement/Construction

4.

Utilities

5.

Retail Sales

6.

Services

7.

Online Sales

8.

Household Goods

9. (Tie)

Landlord/Tenant

9. (Tie)

Home Solicitations

10.

Healthcare Products/Services

When faced with unhappy or even angry patients, some doctors may try to sweep the complaints under the rug. That’s a bad idea, according to practice-management experts. Left unanswered, a minor dissatisfaction could lead to a malpractice suit. A 2002 Vanderbilt University study found that there was definite correlation between the number of complaints and the number of malpractice suits.

Some of the common issues that can trigger a patient complaint are lengthy waits for an appointment, hours spent in waiting rooms and examining rooms, lack of communication, billing issues, and delays in getting test results. Many of these complaints are preventable and doctors can take positive steps to keep them to a minimum.

The key is to respect the patient, which includes protecting their privacy and regarding their time as valuable. To keep noncompliance to a minimum, physicians should clearly communicate the treatments they’re recommending and explain why. To prevent misunderstandings about billing, avoid surprises: If you require co-pays at the time of treatment or charge a fee for a no-show, let the patient know that, preferably when the first appointment is scheduled.

A 2007 Consumer Reports survey found that while most patients were happy with their physicians’ care, their top complaint about doctors was time spent in the waiting room. The study found that 24% of patients surveyed said they waited 30 minutes or longer. To manage this problem, regularly review scheduling policies to see if keeping patients wait times are becoming an issue. (Financial Health Check Up blogger Ed Rabinowitz recently wrote about a new online tool to help doctors and patients better manage their time.

A simple apology can be the solution to handling many of these complaints. Studies show, for example, that a patient who has been through a long wait to see you appreciates an apology and often considers the matter closed. Handling other kinds of gripes, though, can get complex. Your office should have a clear policy about how to handle patient complaints. As part of that policy, staff should be instructed to relay all serious complaints to you, including any threats of litigation.