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The workshop

Dealing with complaints

OT  poses a monthly scenario from a practitioner. This month, we look at complaints

fingers pointing

The scenario

Maria, AOP member

“I am an optometrist who became a practice owner 18 months ago. We always strive to ensure that our customers have a pleasant experience and up until last month, I had not received a complaint. Recently a customer complained about the service, and it made me realise that the practice should be better prepared for complaints and how to deal with them. Can you share any advice on how to deal with a complaint effectively and resolve it at practice level?”

The advice

Richard Edwards, clinical consultant at the OCCS

At the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS), we know that, as professionals, we do our utmost to ensure that the care we provide to patients is of the highest standard. However, it’s only natural that, on occasions, we disappoint a customer. Being prepared for those situations and dealing with them in the appropriate way is key to ensuring their swift and smooth resolution.

See the complaint as a positive

While this sounds counterintuitive, complaints really shouldn’t be viewed as completely negative. There is research to suggest that rather than complain, many unhappy customers simply take their business elsewhere. The act of making the complaint gives the practice a chance to improve and get it right next time, as well as gain valuable insight into practice delivery as a whole. We can’t get it 100% right every time, but we should view complaints and feedback as an opportunity to learn and improve. Viewing the complaint in this way is a really positive and productive place to start.

The act of making the complaint gives the practice a chance to improve and get it right next time, as well as gain valuable insight into practice delivery as a whole


Formalise a complaints procedure

This is vital to reassure the patient that the complaint is being taken seriously and being dealt with efficiently. It is also reassuring for you when you spend much of the working day physically isolated from the team in your consulting room. The procedure will vary from practice to practice but should always clearly outline the process for the patient and who will be dealing with it for them. It should also include a formal method of effectively recording and analysing the complaint and then agreeing a resolution. If there is no resolution, that’s when engaging the OCCS should be considered. We can help with advice and mediation, if required, which is a service provided by experts at Nockolds Solicitors.

Leave emotion at the door

This is a tough one, but complaints should never be taken personally. It’s very rarely a personal slur or criticism of the optometrist’s own level of care, so always try to take a step back from the emotional side and remain professional. The vast majority of issues we see at the OCCS are not clinical but relate to communication and expectation management.

This is vital to reassure the patient that the complaint is being taken seriously and being dealt with efficiently


Listen to the patient

It’s important to start by thanking the patient for bringing the issue to the practice’s attention, and apologise for them having to do so. This sets the right tone for the discussion moving forwards. Then, try to avoid challenging the complaint. This is where the discussion can start to go downhill. In a health setting, there can often be an uncomfortable imbalance of knowledge between the patient and the health professional, and patients often tell us that they feel ‘dismissed’ or that they ‘haven’t been listened to.’ Using open questions to demonstrate an understanding of the full impact of the patient’s complaint is a good tip. Try not to just focus on the technical aspect of a complaint, but also ask questions like ‘how can I make this right for you?’ It’s important to remember that most complaints revolve around how a patient felt or was made to feel.

I would always recommend mediation in any complaints that do not amount to allegations of serious professional misconduct. The most common issues raised during mediation in my experience relate to prescription or dispensing accuracy and manifest as a non-tolerance. The more clinical scenarios we occasionally encounter can be early cataract referral/non-referral decision explanations and, more recently, how changes from dry to wet age-related macular degeneration have been communicated.

The common denominator in these scenarios is the opportunity to learn and, ultimately, improve. If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of mediation, visit Nockolds Solicitors' website.