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Handling Patient Complaints: A Guide for Nurses

Regardless of which service-based industry you work in and your role in the organization, you must know that it is impossible to always make everybody happy. As a nurse working in the healthcare industry, you may know this fact all too well.

In an ideal world, healthcare professionals would find out a way to eliminate any potential patient problems entirely. Of course, the hard reality is that patient complaints are bound to happen. Disgruntled and unsatisfied patients are a part of everything you deal with as a medical professional. While you cannot make patient complaints go away, you can find ways of handling patient complaints in a way that everybody benefits from.

Whether it is a patient unhappy with how much they are being charged, the course of treatment, long wait times, or any other issue – you will come across patients who will make life difficult no matter how nice you are. Regardless of what you try, you might end up getting complaints. As difficult as it might seem, there are things you can do to achieve a positive outcome when you master the art of handling patient complaints.

We have been there, and it never gets easier. How you deal with the situation, however, can positively impact outcomes and help you become better at dealing with challenging cases. Today’s post will offer you some actionable tips to help minimize complaints and achieve positive outcomes.

Don’t Take Patient Complaints Personally

Nurses interact the most with patients. It means you are likelier to face the brunt of that negative energy and frustration a disgruntled patient may have. The first and most important thing you must understand as a nurse, is to never take patient complaints personally. Letting a patient’s complaint get to you on a personal level will never have a good outcome for anybody.

Handling patient complaints is part of the job, and patient complaints are unavoidable. Instead of treating these complaints as a personal attack, you should be empathetic to understand the patient’s perspective. Remember, a complaint from a patient is a call for attention – they have nothing to gain by simply making your life difficult.

When you reframe how you view patient complaints, knowing how to gracefully navigate such situations can become easier.

How Nurses Fit into the Scenario

As the first medical professional who interacts with people needing medical aid, patients often turn to nurses when they feel upset. The public knows that a nurse is responsible for caring for them during health crises. Patients who need conflict resolution will naturally expect you to take the lead.

Patients and families often do not understand that nurses are the front line of the healthcare system. Besides providing necessary medical intervention, nurses have another critical role; balancing patient complaints while simultaneously enforcing organizational rules to achieve good outcomes. Patients and their families can often be unfair and demanding, creating conflict with nurses who must uphold their healthcare organization’s protocols. Everyone involved faces a high-stress environment because of this.

7 Actionable Tips to Effectively Handle Patient Complaints

Here are a few ways you can diffuse patient frustrations and manage their complaints:

1. Take A Proactive Approach, Not Reactive

Instead of giving a patient an opportunity to complain to you, consider being proactive. Ask them how they are doing and ask if they need help at regular intervals. Letting a patient know you care can make a good impression on them from the get-go.

2. Pay Attention to Your Patient’s Concerns

A frustrated patient only wants to be heard. Interrupting or telling them to calm down will never diffuse a situation. As bad as things might be, focus on listening closely and waiting for them to finish. Pay attention to what they say and speak only after they are finished speaking. Address their concerns immediately, to the best of your ability, and convey limitations of their requests to them.

3. Think Before You Speak

Do not speak immediately when you are dealing with frustrated patients. Take a pause, think about what you have to say, and speak calmly. Try restating your patient’s concerns to let them know you heard them. Telling patients that they are completely wrong (which they can be quite often) will only make them feel angrier.

4. Develop A Thicker Skin

Irritable patients can say unwarranted things or berate you even when you are not at fault. Developing thicker skin is essential to handling patient complaints for a positive outcome. Reacting negatively to them is not helpful. Learn not to react negatively, no matter how tempting it might seem.

5. Step into Their Shoes

Have you ever put yourself in their shoes? Have you ever thought that their anger is no more than an outward expression of inner fear? Putting yourself in their position can give you more perspective. Has the patient been ill for a while? Are they in a lot of pain? Trying to understand the source of their anger instead of simply registering their frustration can help you gauge how to respond appropriately.

6. Validate & Apologize

Letting a patient’s behavior affect your mental well-being is never good. You may feel frustrated with a patient yourself but imagine how the patient feels. Instead of reacting negatively, try to validate their concerns. Restating their issues and apologizing to them, even when the situation doesn’t call for it, can create a safe space for open communication between the patient and yourself. You need to learn how to create that safe space, because once you do that, it can become easier to understand their concerns and deal with the situation accordingly.

7. Document Patient Complaints

Having a record of patient complaints is always a good idea. Make a habit of documenting them immediately when patients express concerns and reconcile the issues as early as possible. Documenting patient complaints and how you resolve them will leave a clear record if you ever have to prove anything in potential litigation issues.

Final Thoughts

If you are new to nursing, you will find that listening to your patients and establishing safe boundaries for effective communication with your patients can go a long way in minimizing patient complaints. Learning not to take things personally, taking a proactive approach, and developing a thicker skin for particularly troubling cases can help you reach more positive outcomes, resolve conflicts, and provide a better healthcare experience to your patients.

At Fast CE For Less, we understand it is not easy dealing with frustrated patients. As a nurse, you must take nursing continuing education courses to increase your skills and renew your license. You should consider exploring online nursing CEUs, like those offered at Fast CE For Less at https://fastceforless.com/ce-courses-for-nursing/, can help you improve in your role, including how to deal with difficult patients, and advance your career.

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