The Best Way to Handle Someone Who’s Dissatisfied With Your Patient Care

The Best Way to Handle Someone Who’s Dissatisfied With Your Patient Care

The longer you are in healthcare, the higher the chances are that you’re going to have a patient that isn’t satisfied with your patient care no matter what you do for them. More often than not, you’re not the one they are dissatisfied with, it’s their overall perception of the experience. We’ve compiled a list of the best ways to handle someone who’s dissatisfied with your patient care. 

Get to the Root 

As mentioned above, more often than not, they are not dissatisfied with your care, they are dissatisfied with the experience overall. The best way to get to the root of this and find out what is really bothering them is to ask a fellow nurse to cover your patients and take 15-30 minutes to talk it out uninterrupted. This is where the truth will hopefully come out and even if it was something you did, the truth was brought to light and you can make it right. If the patient is unwilling to discuss this with you, in-turn ask a fellow nurse or the charge to speak with the patient to get to the root of the issue. 

Be Empathetic

Empathy is and will almost always be key when it comes to successfully handling a patient that is dissatisfied with their care. Keep in mind that your patient is a person, he or she may not feel well or just received a new diagnosis. You’ll always want to be empathetic, never make assumptions, or get defensive. Put yourself in the patient’s shoes and let them vocalize their feelings. Be empathetic to how they feel no matter if it’s warranted or not. This is where you need to validate their feelings.

If it is Your Care

If your care is specifically what the patient is upset about, don’t get defensive. It can be easy to get defensive especially when the patient is complaining that you don’t pay enough attention to them, always seem rushed, or don’t take their pain seriously.

These are some of the most common complaints and as nurses, we know we are busy, rushed and a lot of patients are seekers. However, we can not let them see that we are rushed. The moment you walk through their door the world needs to slow down and your care need to be 100 percent on them. This can take some practice, but as a patient when they feel the energy you’re giving off it can be hard for them to feel important, want to ask for the things they need or even have the care and energy they truly need to recover. 

Get to the Root 

The old saying rings true no matter what industry you’re in: “The strict teachers get bad remarks.” If your patient wants to sneak in food that isn’t on their diet or wants to sneak out for cigarette breaks and you refuse, this is another common cause for patients to complain about their nurses. Their hope is that if they complain about you, they will get assigned a new nurse that is more lenient.

It’s important to communicate this with your charge before matters get to the point of a formal complaint. At any time your patient can choose to make a formal complaint about you completely unrelated to your care.

This is where your charting will have your back and communicating with your co-workers is key. If your patient (let’s call him Bob), Bob is constantly trying to sneak in food and sneak out for cigarettes and gives you a hard time, make sure this is charted and that you tell the unit to keep an eye on Bob because he is known for sneaking in food and sneaking out for cigarettes. This way there are witnesses and charting to back up why you might not be Bob’s favorite nurse. 

Time to Switch 

In nursing, sometimes there is an inevitable personality clash. This is never a fun one to deal with because no matter how hard you try to be nice, they just have it in their heads that they do not like you, or your personality.

Depending on the census, it can be possible to switch nurses in these situations. Other times, you just have to give them your best care and give them an ear to vent to until they feel better. As mentioned above, depending on your hospital protocols, this could be allowing another nurse to speak with them, or asking the charge nurse, case manager, or social worker to speak with the patient. More often than not, patients just want to be heard. 

Let the patient know that the complaint is being taken seriously and suggest solutions. Explain that it will be reviewed and discussed among the management. Inform the patient that you will follow up with them after the grievance has been thoroughly investigated. It is best practice to offer a time frame as to when the patient can expect a communication regarding the issue.

Document the Complaint

Formally document any patient complaints, whether big or small per your hospital protocol. If you’ve promised to touch base with the patient, be sure to do so in a timely manner. Although it can be hard, take this time to view the complaint as an opportunity to learn and build upon. Complaints are part of working in a medical field and should be expected. How you handle them and learn from them is what will set you apart.

Have you had a patient that was dissatisfied with your patient care? Let us know in the comments below on what worked (or didn’t work) for you.


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About the author

Ashley Carty

Ashley Carty is a seasoned medical professional with over 8 years of experience working at the top hospitals in Southern California, including Hoag, Saddleback Memorial, and UCSD.

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