Handling Patient Complaints in the ED


Handling Patient Complaints in EDs For emergency department managers, complaints are a serious and complex issue. They are worrisome due to concerns of possible litigation – emergency medicine is one of the top 10 specialties facing a higher number of lawsuits – and because dissatisfied patients are at odds with goals to improve patient satisfaction and care.

At the same time, ED staff is working in an extremely challenging environment. Physicians must determine whether a patient is truly in pain or feigning it to get, for example, a Percocet prescription. Staff may have to tend to another patient whose partner is becoming belligerent and appears under the influence. Nevertheless, amidst the chaos that can be an ED, there are helpful strategies for handling patient complaints – whether they’re coming from patients or the patients’ loved ones.

Follow Best Communications Practices

When handling patient complaints, the physician or ED director should give the person speaking his/her undivided attention. Once the person has had his/her say, say something empathetic or even offer an apology (although whether or not to apologize is up for debate). The Texas Medical Association suggests that the ED director obtain as much information as possible and thank the patient for bringing up the issue.

Attain Patient Agreement

After listening to the complaint, personnel should offer different solutions and wait for the patient’s agreement about taking a next step. When handling patient complaints, giving patients a chance to approve a next action when possible can help the complainant to feel more empowered.

To convey that the ED is taking the matter seriously, offer the patient or family members a chance to document the issue at hand and even schedule a follow-up conversation.

Utilize Medical Images

A study in the British Medical Journal found that most complaints are about treatment and poor communication. In situations when a patient’s loved one doesn’t understand why certain care is given or feels as though more interventions should be provided, tools that help improve communication are valuable. For example, visuals can help families or patients better understand underlying health conditions or show how an intervention will treat an illness. In addition, explaining the care guidelines that are being followed and pointing out relevant findings shown in patients’ medical images can augment communication as a tactic to handling patient complaints.

Medical imaging solutions such as McKesson Enterprise Image Repository™ help simplify enterprise-wide access to images. It enables integration with a patient’s electronic health record (EHR), helps foster better team collaboration and can help physicians communicate more clearly with patients. The goal is that using medical images when appropriate can help clarify communication and reduce complaints.

The ED is a tough place to work, and the combination of anxiety, confusion and stress can take its toll on patients and people who may be with them. Handling patient complaints so that a dissatisfied person feels heard and understood can help diffuse tensions and may help improve patient satisfaction.

Discover more information about medical imaging solutions and functions that integrate patient data in this case study.

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