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Three common patient complaints-and how to address them

Medical Economics JournalJanuary 10, 2020 edition
Volume 97
Issue 1

Patient attitudes can often be more challenging than their health conditions. Here are strategies to deal with the most common issues.

How to address common patient complaints


Complaints in this category range from being verbally attacked by a receptionist to feeling insulted by a physician. One writer, the relative of a patient, spent countless hours in the waiting room during her loved one’s multiple treatments and claimed the entire office, including the specialist, was in on a network of gossip behind the couple’s back. 

Other circumstances deemed rude by patients include having to wait for every appointment, feeling that they weren’t being listened to by a distracted doctor, and not being introduced to others in the room (interns, residents, other staff, etc.).

One patient wrote to tell me about the time a billing clerk suddenly entered the examination room mid-procedure to discuss another patient’s insurance claim with the doctor.

It’s understandable that patients can misinterpret visual and verbal cues, especially when they’re concerned about their health. While a physician’s attention is on their tablet, the patient might be longing for eye contact. And patients can easily take the slightest hint of brusqueness in a doctor’s voice as exasperation.

Shifting these perceptions can be as simple as taking a moment for an attitude adjustment between patients. On a more general scale, practices may want to develop a set of guiding principles with all employees, making sure those standards include injecting an element of kindness and compassion into every patient interaction. This applies to all departments, from reception to billing.


Patients are frustrated and confused when they’re not allowed what they feel is  adequate time to have a complete conversation with a medical professional about their symptoms, results, treatments, medications, diagnoses, and plans. They clearly don’t like being rushed. When the physician is behind, they’re affronted.

While most people understand that doctors need to deal with urgent situations and unexpected booking changes, they appreciate being notified if there’s going to be a delay. This courtesy allows them to change their plans accordingly, because their time is valuable, too.

A big part of this problem lies in unrealistic scheduling. Depending on the practice, there may be little or no say about how much time is allotted for each appointment or how many patients are seen in a day. If a physician is in the enviable position of controlling her calendar, she should do what she can to make the day flow more smoothly.

Brainstorm with staff about ways to educate patients as to what they can expect during their appointments. Instruct receptionists or booking clerks to explain to patients how long they’ll have for their visit. If, for example, the practice’s policy is to deal with only one concern per visit, make that clear.


Some patients say they’ve been made to feel that they’re to blame for their medical conditions. And let’s face it, that’s often the case. But they don’t appreciate being scolded or talked down to. What they’d rather have is understanding, support, and advice, which can be challenging when the practice is seeing the same people with the same problem repeatedly.

A lot of people are scared and intimidated when they visit a doctor. The last thing they need is to feel belittled, too. I’ve received lamentations about everything from a loss of character and morality in the medical profession to a lack of transparency in healthcare in general. And while it’s not possible to validate these one-sided complaints without a full investigation, it is wise to consider them as examples of potential problems in a practice.

The bottom line is this: Patients want patience as much as physicians do. Beyond rudeness, rushing, and reproach lies respect.

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