Article Date: 7/1/2009

How to Handle Patient Complaints
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How to Handle Patient Complaints

What do you do when patients cancel orders, demand refunds or argue fees?

RICHARD S. KATTOUF, O.D., D.O.S.

Q When a patient is unreasonable regarding products, services or fees, I turn the matter over to the manager or a varsity staffer. The result is anxiety and the problem is usually not resolved. Any ideas on how to better handle these situations?

Dr. M.J. Karp
via e-mail

A: Most times, the manager, the varsity employee and, yes, even the doctor lack formal training in handling these patient issues. The following scenarios can provide guidance.

The cancelled order

A patient orders glasses and calls a day or two later to cancel the order. This is normally "buyer's remorse" caused by an owner (doctor) who doesn't understand how to present optical fees.

It's difficult for a staffer handling the complaint to get a patient to understand: 1) the prescription is personal and, thus, unusable by another patient and 2) the prescription is already being fabricated.

To learn how to present optical fees, have one or two of your optical employees present when meeting with the order-cancelling patient. Present a breakdown of all the charges, and use props to demonstrate the specific lenses, enhancements and frame materials that you've prescribed. Be sure to sit with your team on your side of the desk and have the patient sit on the other side. This prevents unreasonable patients from attempting to bully or intimidate you. The balance of power shifts because the patient becomes intimidated by the facts, order and professional presentation. Since this consumer has already voiced his complaint, giving him the stage isn't necessary.


ILLUSTRATION BY LAEL HENDERSON

You and your staff must have the solution prior to the meeting. State facts, and present no more than two options, such as choosing a new frame at a lesser value that can be used with the fabricated lenses. Do not give product away or act defensive. Make eye contact, and speak in an authoritative voice. Record the visit with the patient's permission. If the patient doesn't give permission, have an employee take copious notes. This training works two fold:

► You take responsibility and use your hands-on experience to break down the patient's cost fears.

►Your staff learns to adapt your successful behavior.

The refusal to pay

Patients may refuse to pay a balance on a medical charge not covered by their insurance carrier. Often, these charges went toward their deductible. To protect your practice, have the patient sign a "form that informs," document, which states he is responsible for payment if his insurance carrier doesn't pay for services within 30 days. Use the same private office set up as explained above.

These disputes occur when the patient perceives you as a "product dispenser," and not a real doctor. Prevent such complaints by proper medical scripting of all procedures performed by your practice.

Stay in control

In all cases, remain in control. If the patient continues to be unreasonable, explain that you have no recourse but to file a suit in small claims court (SCC). If the patient is employed, you cannot lose the case. You have the facts; the consumer has emotions. I'm well aware that the SCC advice doesn't always sit well, but my job is to share the methods that get results. OM


DR. KATTOUF IS PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER OF TWO MANAGEMENT AND CONSULTING COMPANIES. FOR INFORMATION, CALL (800) 745-EYES, OR E-MAIL HIM AT ADVANCEDEYECARE@HOTMAIL.COM. THE INFORMATION IN THIS COLUMN IS BASED ON ACTUAL CONSULTING FILES.

Optometric Management, Issue: July 2009