This guidance provides a checklist for handling complaints in line with the principles set out in Standards for dental professionals. A complaint is any expression of dissatisfaction by a patient (or their representative) about a dental service or treatment whether justified or not.
1 Respecting the patient’s right to complain
1.1 It is part of your responsibility as a dental professional to deal properly and professionally with complaints.
1.2 If you get a complaint from a patient, deal with it calmly and in line with your complaints procedure.
1.3 Aim to sort out the complaint as quickly, effectively and smoothly as possible.
1.4 Keep a written log of complaints so that you can use this to monitor your performance in handling complaints andidentify possible areas for improvement.
2.1 Make sure you have a procedure for handling complaints and that it recognises the following:
- A complaint is any expression of dissatisfaction by a patient (or their representative) about a dental service or treatment, whether justified or not.
- Complaints can be spoken or written and can be about any part of the service you provide. Many complaints will not be about your technical skills or the quality of the clinical care you give to patients.
- Patients complain because their expectations of a good level of service have not been met. If a patient’s expectation does not match yours, this can often be the result of a failure to communicate.
- If you handle a complaint well, it will make sure that you maintain and improve your relationship with the patient.
- Speed is a top priority when handling complaints. The longer you leave the complaint without sorting it out, the more irritated patients may get.
2.2 Make sure your complaints procedure:
- is somewhere patients can see it;
- is easy for patients to use; allows you to deal with complaints quickly;
- allows you to investigate complaints in a full and fair way;
- respects patient confidentiality;
- is clearly written without complicated language;
- provides clearly explained outcomes for the patient;
- and passes information to improve service back to your practice management.
3 Setting the framework
3.1 Let patients know who to contact if they have a problem with the service you have provided, or the service your practice provides.
3.2 Make sure everyone who works in the practice is familiar with the complaints procedure. If you are an employer or manage a team, provide training in how to deal with patients' concerns and complaints and how to apologise and offer practical solutions.
4 The process for handling complaints
4.1 Give your patient a copy of your complaints procedure when you acknowledge their complaint.
4.2 Let your dental defence organisation know, if appropriate, when you receive a complaint so that they can help you to sort it out effectively.
4.3 Make sure the information you give to patients about your procedures for handling complaints includes a description of the timescales and stages involved.
4.4 You should normally respond to a complaint in writing or by phone as soon as you receive it, if possible.
Professor Tooth's Learning Activities
If you cannot sort the complaint out immediately what should you aim to do and with what time scale?
4.5 If you need time to investigate a complaint, tell your patient in your acknowledgement when they will hear from you.
4.6 If there are exceptional circumstances, regularly update your patient with the progress of the investigation (at least every 10 working days).
5 Dealing with the complaint
5.1 Do not be defensive when dealing with complaints.
5.2 Make sure you deal with all the points raised in a complaint and offer a suitable solution for each one at the same time.
5.3 Offer an apology and a practical solution where appropriate. Remember that an apology does not mean you are admitting responsibility. Apologise that something has gone wrong, as a way of showing concern and understanding.
5.4 If the patient’s complaint is justified, offer a fair solution, which may include offering to put things right at your own expense if you have made a mistake.
5.5 At the end of your investigation, send your patient a letter explaining: what you have decided; and any practical solutions you are prepared to offer.
Professor Tooth's Learning Activities
If, despite your efforts to sort the matter out, the patient is still not satisfied what should you do?
6 Learning from complaints
6.1 Analyse any complaints so that you can improve your services as a result.
7.1 Complaints arise when people don't get the service they expect. Patients often complain about service issues, such as lack of politeness or poor communication, as well as clinical issues.
7.2 Don't treat every complaint as a possible negligence case but do discuss a complaint with your dental defence organisation as soon as possible after you receive it.
7.3 Your complaints procedure is part of your approach to patient care. Make sure everyone (dental professionals, staff and patients) knows about it.
7.4 A good complaints procedure is simple. Don't make it more complicated than it has to be.
7.5 Complaints are often urgent. Deal with them quickly before they have time to grow.
7.6 Handling complaints well involves being polite and showing consideration. Listen carefully to patients and involve them fully in the process of sorting their complaint out.
7.7 Above all, say and show how sorry you are that something has gone wrong.
Learning Activity Results
It is recommended that you take the Learning Activites above before you take your CPD test, if one is available.
useful update, refreshed my memory
We are reminded how to handle complaints... here.
Sets out proceedure for complaints handing concisely
Good concise update. Thanks for this.
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- This article provides a checklist for handling complaints in line
- with the principles set out in Standards for dental professionals.
- A complaint is any expression of dissatisfaction by a patient (or
- their representative) about a dental service or treatment whether
- justified or not.