At some point in our careers, we’re bound to encounter a disgruntled patient. So it’s important to be prepared for such a scenario. Without a plan-of-action for such an event, it’s highly probable that it’ll lead to bad consequences that could have been easily preventable. On the contrary, if handled correctly the same patient may well become one of your strongest advocates. Here are the most effective ways of dealing with a disgruntled patient:

Maintain Composure

Regardless of your competence levels or the degree of sensitivity shown by your staff, there will be occasions when you would have a patient who will become emotional.  When patients get emotional they tend to make inflammatory or rash statements. You needn’t respond to those comments – refrain from trading blows and accusations as this would evidently make the situation worse. The cardinal rule is to remain calm and patiently hear out the patient. Once you give the patient time to talk and they have vented, it may now be possible for you to carry out a more productive discussion.

Handle it discreetly

At the first inkling of a problem, it is advisable to guide the complaining patient to a relatively private area for further discussions. The logic is simple – you do not want to entertain onlookers and neither do you want to disturb your staff.

Train your Staff

It is common knowledge that the first rumbling of dissatisfaction will not be heard by the doctor as patients seldom complain to the doctor directly. Thus it important that you train your staff to pick up the first signs of dissatisfaction and bring even the smallest complaints to your notice.

Concurrently you as a doctor would also need to keep alert, considering the fact that there will be occasions when the patient may well voice a complaint directly to you. It is in instances such as these that you will need to exercise tact. In some situations lending a sympathetic ear and listening to the patient carefully is all that is required. Conversely it is possible that you may need to take a more active intervention measure like asking a few questions and understanding the level of dissatisfaction and finding the right countermeasure.

Empathy goes a long way

In instances where the patient is complaining about not recovering quickly or talks about persistence of pain, it is important that you communicate with the patient and discuss realistic goals. This could mean educating the patient about the diagnosed condition and discussing a timeline or control of symptoms. It is critically important that you as a doctor are aware that the objective is not about proving that you are right; rather it is more about showing that you care and finding the right solution. A simple statement like ‘I understand how frustrating this must be for you’ may be enough to reassure the patient that you want to help.

Damage Control

Self preservation is a basic human trait, thus it is not uncommon to see most of us go into a denial mode and continue to defend ourselves even when we are at fault. It is critically important to take responsibility for your actions and admit it. Even while defending the staff,  patients tend to get even more disgruntled as they they think that you are not showing sensitivity or concern.

In most instances all that may be required is a simple apology or an acceptance of the fact that the complaint is legitimate. Alternatively in case the issue is more substantive a simple apology can set the pace for a productive conversation later.

Reiterate and offer solutions

Once you have heard out the patient patiently, it is now time for you to summarize what you have understood. It is important to make the patient a part of the solution. For example, if the patient complained that they had to wait too long, then it would help if you could accept the concern as legitimate and more importantly share your concern and offer a solution as to how you would take a countermeasure the next time over.


Although we constantly strive to achieve excellence, competence and complete patient satisfaction at all times, it is possible that we may not be successful at all times. When misunderstandings do crop up all that may be required is to maintain calm, be a good listener, and create an ambience of empathy with the patient.