How to Complain or Provide Feedback to Your Doctor

The Right Approach Will Improve Your Chance of Being Heard

Empty waiting room
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Once you are ready to provide feedback to your doctor, you'll want to prepare carefully to make sure it has positive results. Failing to do so may have a negative impact on your relationship with your doctor.

The first step is to assess the content of your feedback. Remember, your best chance for making a successful case for improvement on your doctor's or his staff's part will be when you have presented both positives and negatives. Don't simply complain; instead, provide constructive criticism.

Problems You Should Not Complain About

Give some thought first to whether your complaint has any possibility of being resolved, or whether it was a problem that couldn't be helped at the time. For example:

  • If your doctor is one of the rare ones who spends almost unlimited time with you, then you should realize he is doing the same for others. If your complaint is that you spend too much time in the waiting room, balance that against the benefit of extra face time with your doctor.
  • If your doctor delivers babies, expect delays. OB-GYNs, primary care providers, or even pediatricians may get called at the last minute for a delivery.
  • The doctor herself may have an emergency that needs tending. Doctors have families, too, and sometimes, just like you, those personal emergencies cause problems that require their immediate attention.

There may be other problems that crop up that your doctor or her staff can't do much about. Don't frustrate yourself or them by complaining about these unchangeable events.

Problems You Should Provide Feedback About

When a problem recurs at each visit, then your feedback may be just the impetus for improving it. Further, if your complaint is something that could improve service to all patients, not just you, then it will be worth noting.

Here are some circumstances worth complaining about:

  • If your doctor always runs late, but rarely spends more than a few minutes with you, then register your complaint. That indicates a scheduling problem, not a helpful and empathetic doctor.
  • If a member of your doctor's staff is consistently rude or difficult, then report the problem. Remember, your doctor and her staff are service providers. You have a right to expect courtesy.
  • If there is a problem with your billing or insurance, and the problem comes from the doctor's office and not the payer (insurance, Medicare), then address your problem to the billing clerk.
  • If you request a prescription refill and the paperwork or phone call to the pharmacist doesn't get handled in a timely manner, then call this to your doctor's attention. Whether your doctor uses an automated system, or someone has dropped the ball, the system has failed you.
  • If your doctor consistently uses words you don't understand, stop him to ask what they mean. No formal complaint is necessary; simply a brief reminder during the conversation will probably be all that is required.
  • If anything occurred that had a negative impact on your health, and you did not cause it yourself, then you need to speak up and let your doctor know. This could include anything from prescription errors to miscommunication.
  • If you were referred to a doctor by another physician, and you have a problem with that doctor, then in addition to providing feedback to the doctor or office where the problem occurred, let the referring doctor know about the problem, too. The referring doctor may think twice about making the next patient referral if he knows there are potential problems. The problem is a reflection on him, too.

How to Register Your Feedback or Complaint

Begin the feedback process by writing down exactly what information you want to provide. If it is a complaint, then record the problem concisely -- names, what you observed, how you were treated, and other details.

Try to balance each problem with something positive. That balance will make your criticism more constructive, and it will make it much easier for you to deliver the message.

Next, figure out the right person to deliver the message to. If your doctor is part of a larger practice, then there may be a practice manager or administrator who will be most helpful to you. If the problem you encounter is with a staff member, then providing feedback to either the doctor or practice manager might be helpful. If the problem is with the doctor then it's best to provide feedback directly to the doctor.

For example, if a staff person has been rude to you, you might say, "Doctor, you know, I appreciate the fact that I rarely have to wait very long to be escorted to an exam room. But I do want you to know that each time I try to make an appointment, I feel like I am creating a problem for Ms. Receptionist. She has been rude to me on several occasions. I hope you don't mind me sharing that information because I'm sure you'll want her to know that's not acceptable."

You can see how balancing the difficult information makes it easier to deliver the complaint. It's easier for you to begin with something positive, and you will have said something nice to smooth the road to the criticism.

If You Can't Give Voice to Your Complaints

It may be difficult to complain to your doctor face-to-face, but your feedback is still very important. The doctor and his staff can't make adjustments if they don't understand that a problem exists.

If you really cannot talk to the doctor or a staff member, then consider writing a letter. Just like preparation for a conversation, you need to be clear about the facts, and you'll want to add as much supporting information as you can. Make sure you balance the good with the bad.

In addition, you need to be clear about what you expect the outcome to be. "For my next visit, I hope Ms. Receptionist will be pleasant." Or, "I hope I won't have to correct any more of my bills with your billing clerk."

An alternative to a letter would be to use one of the assessment checklists you can find online. they will help you frame your complaint, and will make sure the doctor understands the good and the not-so-good aspects of your experience with his practice.

Providing feedback to your doctor can be cathartic, and can help all parties improve the doctor visit experience.

And if all else fails, and you get no satisfaction, consider writing a review of your doctor, objectively but clearly, so others know what to expect if they engage with this doctor.

If the problem with your provider was dire enough, you can also file a formal complaint against that doctor or provider in hopes of encouraging her to change her behavior, or at the extreme, to have her removed from practice.

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