I was reading the new GDC guidance on complaints handling and was struck by 5.1: ‘Do not be defensive when dealing with complaints.’
What excellent advice. It is all too easy, isn’t it? You’re feeling a bit guilty and you bristle. I could recall a few sticky moments of my own, but it also brought back two occasions when I managed not to bristle.
Years back I was working in an NHS practice with masses of untreated gum disease and very little patient awareness, so I had steam coming out of my ears. I was running about half an hour late and feeling very guilty about patients taking time off work and me keeping them waiting.
I also knew my next patient would be chomping at the bit because the receptionist had warned me. They always take the flak don’t they? It is useful to be forewarned though so keep the lines of communication open.
As I opened the door, the man leapt in and fired at me from all cylinders. I stood and listened for a bit, then broke in with something along the lines of: ‘I’m really sorry you’ve been kept waiting and can appreciate the problems the delay has caused. I try to give my patients as much time as possible so shall we press on now? Are you aware of any troubles?’
He had had the wind completely taken out of his sails and he actually ended up apologising to me for sounding off! That was a really important learning experience and I glowed at the outcome. If I had been defensive it would have fuelled his fire and he might have left without having any treatment.
I’ll tell you about the other occasion in my next article.