Navigating complaints during the cost of living crisis
Each edition, OT answers a question from an AOP member. This time: mitigating and managing patient complaints in the cost of living crisis
15 May 2023
Emma, AOP member
“As the cost of living crisis continues, I am extremely conscious of my patients not fully understanding the financial costs involved in an eye examination until after it has taken place. As a practice owner, I am concerned that a complaint may be made, even if my staff optometrist believes they have explained the cost involved in relevant tests fully. Do you have any advice if this does occur?”
Sue Clark, clinical consultant at the Optical Consumer Complaints Service
This problem will no doubt look very familiar. A highly nuanced question, it would be impossible to provide a succinct answer that provides professionals with a ready-made response to use each time such a scenario presents itself. Instead, it would be better to break this question down in order to understand the most appropriate strategies to employ when a client is experiencing anxieties relating to their finances. By doing this, it will be possible to build a more robust blueprint that can be referred to whenever such a complaint emerges.
How to mitigate complaints relating to finances
The first thing to recognise is that such matters must necessarily be handled with the utmost sensitivity, and with a clear focus on transparent communication. Specifically, practitioners should make it a priority to confirm fees whenever an appointment is being made as well as when the patient eventually arrives. In addition to this, it is imperative that the patient is made aware of any additional fees that may be incurred in the course of their treatment. If at all unsure of what sort of fees are likely to be incurred, practitioners should be sure to have a conversation with the optometrist responsible for taking care of the client to ensure that no potential fee goes overlooked.
Not only does this approach provide complete transparency to clients who may be closely scrutinising each of their financial commitments, it also allows them to decline any extra fees in place of raising a complaint further down the line.
In short, it is the responsibility of practices to clearly communicate their fees to clients before any examination takes place, and to make these fees as visible as possible. Practical solutions to this might be a price list available at your reception desk and the inclusion of fees along with any communications that are sent to your clients. By committing to communication in this way from the very outset, it is likely that any potential complaints around finances will be mitigated well ahead of time.
It is the responsibility of practices to clearly communicate their fees to clients before any examination takes place, and to make these fees as visible as possible
How to manage complaints relating to finances
As with all complaints, it is vitally important that practices acknowledge the complaint being made and thank the client for bringing the issue to their attention.
Once this step has been completed, practices should turn to their procedures to ensure that all processes are properly followed. This will enable practices to keep any complaining clients fully aware of what is being done to address their concerns, reducing the likelihood that matters will be escalated as a consequence of poor management.
Additionally, complaints procedures enable practices to set achievable timescales and identify any valuable learnings that can be reflected on to avoid future instances of a similar nature.
How to manage clinical elements in a complaint
Even with the best procedures to hand and the best team supporting them, it is inevitable that practices will at some point encounter clients who wish to raise a complaint regarding their care. To this end, it is crucial that leaders reassure the practitioners involved and focus on how the complaint provides an opportunity to learn, rather than an opportunity to criticise performance. Remember that good record keeping is key in such instances.
It is crucial that leaders reassure the practitioners involved and focus on how the complaint provides an opportunity to learn, rather than an opportunity to criticise performance
How complaints are progressed
In the event that a complaint has progressed beyond the practice level, it is useful for teams to be aware of the processes that are in place to resolve them. If the complaint includes an allegation bringing into question a registrant’s fitness to practise the case may well have been submitted to the General Optical Council (GOC), where it will be triaged before any investigation is initiated. These days the vast majority of such allegations will not progress beyond initial triage stage and should be closed very quickly. Committed to providing transparent communication, the GOC will keep the practice up to date on the status of any complaint.
Alternatively, if it is a consumer issue, it will be submitted and reviewed by the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS). As an impartial third party, the OCCS will endeavour to reopen communication and resolve the complaint using mediation techniques that are designed to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. In each case, these organisations will provide ongoing communication to keep teams fully aware of how things are progressing.
Ultimately, practices can mitigate the likelihood of a complaint relating to finances by being vigilant when it comes to communicating the costs involved in the services they provide. In the event that a client still feels compelled to escalate their concerns to a third party organisation, there are various processes and channels available to ensure that everyone receives the information they need to move forwards.
If you would like to contact the OCCS to discuss a concern please call 0344 800 5071 or send an email.