Having a proper complaints procedure can help you solve patient issues and restore calm, as DDU dento-legal advisers Sarah Ide and David Lauder explain.

Receiving a complaint can be a stressful and frustrating experience. Regardless of how good the clinical or communication skills are, many dental professionals will receive a complaint from a patient on more than one occasion during their career.

Unfortunately this is part of working life for most professional people today, but being prepared in the proper management of complaints can help to reduce the stress involved and hopefully help resolve the matter swiftly.

Having a complaints procedure in place is both helpful and necessary. As dento-legal advisers we've seen that if handled properly, many complaints can be managed in the workplace. This can help to prevent the patient seeking further advice from a solicitor, or referring the case to another organisation like the GDC. In fact, when handled effectively, a disgruntled patient can transform into one who sings your praises.

As with any form of patient management, showing empathy and dealing with a complaint quickly and fairly are likely to help. This isn't just common sense - it's also a requirement for all GDC registrants.

The GDC Standards for the Dental Team 2013 states that all registrants must:

  • make sure there is an effective complaints procedure readily available for patients to use, and follow that procedure at all times
  • respect patients' right to complain
  • give patients who complain a prompt and constructive response.

We have both seen many instances where a swift, empathetic response coupled with an appropriate apology and explanation go a long way towards satisfying unhappy patients. We have also seen that picking up the phone to seek advice from the DDU as soon as a complaint is received can be of great help when managing a complaint.