How to Handle Patient Complaints at Your Plastic Surgery Practice


Does this sound familiar?

A brand new patient comes into your plastic surgery practice. You have a consultation; everything seems to be going great. You do the procedure, which goes perfectly. The patient goes home to recover, and there are no complications. But then, soon after they see their final results, they come back to your practice… and they are furious. Their results aren’t what they expected. They say that you lied to them, or misled them, or somehow screwed up. They are angry and they want compensation, or they will be talking to a lawyer.

Plastic surgeons, and all doctors really, have to handle difficult or angry patients every day. Sometimes, anger and complaints are legitimate, and other times they are not. Either way, learning how to manage customer complaints to maintain your practice’s reputation and patient relationships is a crucial part of the customer service experience. How can you make things “right?” Here are a few ideas.

Understand the Complaint

Just because someone is complaining doesn’t mean that they are unreasonable or unfair. They could legitimately feel that they were misled somewhere in the process, as misunderstandings do happen. In these cases, you have a real opportunity to “make things right” by working with the patient to address their concerns. This requires interpersonal skills and customer service. If these areas aren’t your strength, then it’s imperative that you have someone in your staff who excels at customer service and working with people.

Sometimes, complaints about results can come about from fear and uncertainty. In these cases, offering a bit of understanding can go a long way. Talk them to about their issues and offer them a follow-up appointment a few weeks later. Often, once they get used to their new appearance, their concerns might simply fall away. At times like this, just offer them the best customer service that you can and be responsive to their needs.

Take It as a Learning Experience

A customer complaint can be a great learning opportunity for you and your staff. If a customer has a legitimate complaint or criticism, then you now have an area where you can genuinely improve your customer service experience. If there is a breakdown at any point between the moment a patient books an initial consult to the moment they see their final results, take a good, long look at it. Is there a possibility that it could happen with other patients? If so, you should workshop ways to address it immediately to avoid more complaints in the future. 

Internet Complaints

Sometimes, a patient doesn’t even contact you about a negative experience they had with your practice. Instead, they head straight to the internet. 

The problem with customer testimonials is that most people who have a positive experience rarely share their opinion with anyone. People who have a negative experience want to tell everyone possible, and the internet gives them that outlet. This is one of the reasons that review sites like Yelp or Google Reviews are often weighted toward the negative. 

If you find a negative review of your practice on one of these sites (and you should definitely be monitoring them), it’s imperative that you publicly reply ASAP. Do not disagree with their assessment or provide your side of the story online, as that will only escalate things. Instead, apologize in a professional, understanding manner (“We’re genuinely sorry you feel this way about your experience.”) and ask them to get in contact with you to discuss the situation further. Anyone who reads the review will see that your patients’ opinions matter to you, and that you took steps to address the complaint. This will somewhat defuse the negativity of their review, as you attempted to provide the complaining patient with a positive customer service experience.

Often (though far from always), people who vent online have no real concept of how damaging and unfair a negative review can be to a practice. By contacting them and working through their issues, they might update or even delete the review.

How to Avoid Customer Complaints in the First Place

As a plastic surgeon, you should never promise a patient flawless results. Instead, you should always help the patient have realistic expectations. Your patients need to know exactly what they are getting into. If there is going to be a risk of scarring, be completely honest about it. If the results will be subtle, don’t tell them that they won’t even be able to recognize themselves in the mirror after the procedure. Their beliefs about the procedure are going to be based on your consultation, so learning to manage expectations is a key part of being a successful plastic surgeon. 

Legal Matters

This blog is in no way offering legal advice, of course. If you have a patient who threatens to sue you, it’s absolutely imperative that you talk to your lawyer immediately about the situation. Follow their advice to the letter and prepare for a headache. Once lawyers are involved, you’ll likely be advised to cease contact with the patient, as unofficial conversations could make things much worse. For malpractice suits, make sure that you have legal representation experienced in how to handle this kind of patient “complaint.”

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