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Sorry Works! Blog

Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

Question from the Road: Patient Calls Complaint Line....After 4 Months?

angry ladyLast month when I was speaking for a major hospital I was asked this question by one of their patient experience staff members.   The woman explained how a patient waited four months after her hospitalization to call and share several serious complaints. She wasn't sure how to handle the situation. Answer: Run to the problem!

Patients and families will complain at various times....sometimes immediately after poor service or a potential mistake. Sometimes - like this case - much time will pass while they think about it, get encouragement from friends and family, and/or before they muster the nerve to call. Sometimes they wait to leave the hospital before complaining because they worry griping in the hospital will negatively impact their care.  Other times patients and families don't complain "directly" but instead speak through a lawyer, a regulator, and/or a member of the media. Heck, it may be a year or two before you hear of a problem, especially if the patient or family is working through a lawyer!

Whenever and however you receive a complaint treat it as an opportunity to make a potentially bad situation right and actually win back a customer. Sometimes the best customers -- your most strongest advocates and biggest cheerleaders -- are folks wronged by your organization but YOU made it right...including when PI lawyers are involved.

Too often hospitals crawl into their shell when the complaints hit, especially if the family is represented by counsel!  At Sorry Works! we hear and see this all the time where a PI lawyer requests record or makes some other inquiry, and some members of leadership team and front-line staff want to reach out to the patient/family, only to be shut down by legal counsel or the claims guy. It's wrong....we should always run to the problem, and never be afraid to engage patients, families, and their legal counsel. Find out why they are upset....what the concerns are....and see if the situation can be handled upfront without a protracted legal battle.   Have an adult conversation!   What is the harm in having a conversation?   And when I say "adult conversation" I don't mean lawyers talking to lawyers...I am suggesting leadership and possibly clinicians (if they are comfortable) speaking to the patient and family.  How often do angry and litigious family members say the doctor abandoned them, never reached out to them, never communicated, etc, etc?   A little talking and a lot of humanity can go a long way!

Note, I'm not asking anyone to prematurely admit fault, be badgered into admissions or fall on their sword, but, instead have a conversation and see what the questions and concerns are. And sure, if necessary bring your attorney and make it clear the conversation is not an impromptu deposition. Express empathy, promise a review with a timeframe, commit to stay connected and follow through, and see if there are any immediate needs that can be addressed. So often litigation ensues because of misunderstandings and missed expectations compounded by the perception of a cover up. And there are plenty of times where legitimate errors are dragged out through a lengthy litigation process because people are scared (or told not to) to have a conversation early on in the process and learn where the finish line is.

Run to the problem and talk!

Hey, 4th of July is in the rear view mirror and back-to-school ads will start soon, which means Fall is right around the corner. Sorry Works! makes a great Grand Rounds presentation for your staff....call 618-559-8168 or e-mail doug@sorryworks.net for more details.

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