Part of my job is to deal with complaints.  It would make sense that dealing with complaints is one of the least favorite aspects of my job and nothing is farther from the truth. 

Don’t get me wrong, I would be happy to never receive a complaint for the rest of my career (a career I’m hoping spans at least another 30 years, by the way).  To think that complaints will go away no matter how great a job we do providing care is unrealistic.  The most important thing I do is deal with complaints and the most satisfying aspect of my job is successfully dealing with a complaint. 

We deal every day with people in highly stressful and emotionally charged situations and we do the most important work on the face of the earth – we save lives.  Complaints are going to happen.  Knowing that complaints will occur becomes incumbent upon us is that we deal with complaints timely and appropriately.

Every complaint is important to the person making the complaint and we need to respect that individual and their complaint and respond in a manner that mirrors their concern.  Nothing is more disappointing than to have the person listening to a complaint not give it the same level of importance as the person does who is making the complaint. 

We must also respond and act timely on every complaint we receive.  We do important work, we hold people’s safety in our hands every complaint provides us the opportunity to evaluate our processes and be sure we are performing to our standards and to the expectation of our patients.

Our work is confusing.  We know what we’re doing but the individual, or the family of the individual, receiving our services often doesn’t understand what we’re doing.  We need to “over” explain things as they’re occurring and many times a complaint can be addressed by helping someone understand why something occurred.  It’s a lot easier to explain things when they’re happening as opposed to explaining why something happened when a person is upset.

We must also be compassionate when dealing with complaints.  Health care is an art and not a science and no matter how great we are, a bad outcome can happen.  We’ve all been in situations that caused us to be upset because we didn’t like or understand why the situation turned out that way it did.  We need to put ourselves in the shoes of the person making the complaint and respond with the same degree of urgency and same level of importance. 

Finally we must also be willing to say “I’m sorry”.  To often in health care we avoid saying “I’m sorry” because we believe doing so is an admission that we’ve done something wrong when in fact we haven’t.  We should say “I’m sorry” and we should be sorry even when we haven’t done anything wrong.  We should be sorry that our patient has a complaint and we should be sorry that we haven’t done everything within our power to set expectations that our patient fully understands and we should be sorry that our patient’s believe they need to spend their time talking to us about their complaint as opposed to sharing with us all the great things we did to help them get better.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to take care of a complaint!

About Craig Thompson

I am a young professional with two great sons, and I work in the healthcare setting. I am employed in hospital administration and serve as Chief Executive Officer at Golden Valley Memorial Healthcare in Clinton, Missouri. At GVMH we care for our families, friends and neighbors. We're committed to providing the safest, friendliest and most compassionate care to all we serve.
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