Risk Management Tools & Resources


Improving Complaint Management in Dental Practices


Customer complaints are common in every service industry, including healthcare. Yet, because of the nature of the services provided in healthcare and their impact on individuals’ health and well-being, managing complaints effectively is essential for ensuring patient satisfaction and reducing liability exposure.

In dental care, patient complaints may arise from a variety of factors, including:

  • Administrative issues, such as wait times, scheduling conflicts, or billing errors
  • Behavioral issues, such as a rushed or unpleasant interaction with a receptionist, hygienist, or dentist
  • Clinical issues, such as the patient’s perception that the dental provider overlooked a symptom, was dismissive of concerns, did not adequately answer questions, or provided suboptimal care

Although complaints might be based on perception rather than actual deficiencies, each complaint should be viewed as an opportunity for improvement. Malpractice claims analyses have shown that litigation often starts as a complaint. The perception that one or more people in a dental practice (including providers and nonclinical staff members) do not care or are disrespectful of a patient’s circumstances sets the stage for escalation when other factors, such as a treatment complication, occur.

Dental practices should develop a policy and process for handling patient complaints, which includes accountabilities for providers and staff members, data collection and analysis protocols, and a process to monitor the effectiveness of changes that are made based on patient complaints.

Elements to consider when developing a complaint management process include:

Negative Online Complaints and Reviews

In today’s digital-driven society, it is not uncommon for patients to make complaints online about dental treatment, services, or providers. Addressing these complaints and criticisms is difficult because it requires striking a careful balance between presenting the provider’s (or practice’s) perception and maintaining patient confidentiality and privacy. MedPro’s Risk Tips: Managing Negative Online Reviews offers guidance for these tricky situations.

  • A method to facilitate high-quality patient feedback, such as patient satisfaction surveys or a suggestion box.
  • A process for designating dental providers or staff members who, because of their training and experience, can respond to patient complaints in a sensitive manner. Patients and practice personnel should know who is fulfilling this role and how to contact these designated individuals.
  • A timeframe for responding to complaints. Any patient with a concern or complaint should receive a telephone call, letter, or electronic communication within 1–2 working days indicating that the provider or office manager is aware of the matter and appreciates having it brought to the practice’s attention.
  • A standardized customer service strategy for handling patient complaints, such as LEAP (listen, empathize, apologize, plan).
  • A process for collecting, analyzing, and reporting complaint-related data to the staff on a monthly or quarterly basis. The process will allow practice leaders to identify patterns and address problems before they become insurmountable.
  • A training program that includes education on customer relations and complaint management for providers and staff members.
  • A policy and guidance on providing refunds or waivers of fees based on patient complaints. These situations are complex and require careful consideration.

To learn more about complaint management and earn free continuing dental education credit, take MedPro's free course titled Defusing Difficult Situations: Strategies for Managing Angry Patients/Families.

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