I’m Kate Dewhirst.

I’m a lawyer who writes about legal issues affecting healthcare in Canada

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Managing Every Day Complaints in Health Care

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I recently surveyed administrative and clinical team members at a family health team and discovered the top 5 issues that lead patients or families to complain where the conversation can get heated:

  1. Being told they cannot receive test results over the phone for a family member without the patient’s consent
  2. Long wait times
  3. Not being able to receive a copy of a health record immediately
  4. Being asked to mask when they arrive with a cough or other symptoms of a communicable disease
  5. Being asked to pay an extra fee for non-insured services

Sound familiar?

One team member said she gets yelled at on a daily basis by patients and families.

How should family health teams respond to complaints?

Here are a few key thoughts:

First, prevention. Family health teams should look at the most common issues that underlie patient and family complaints in their office and consider ways to proactively address those issues.  Many times communication goes a long way to preventing blow ups.  For example:

  • Prompt patients to let you know where to leave a message about test results and with whom the results can be shared
  • Notify people upon arrival if there is an extra long wait or how long they can expect to wait
  • Explain how patients can have a copy of their record and how long it will take
  • Anticipate that patients who have to mask have no idea how to mask – show them how – and then address their natural instinct to want to remove their mask because they are hot or uncomfortable and how to keep it on
  • Explain extra fees in a brochure

Second, mindset. When someone raises a concern, a natural inclination is to deflect or defend.  A starting point is “mindset”.  Mantras can help here:

  • This is not about me
  • I am calm and open-minded

Third, listen. Let the person tell you what happened – without interrupting.

Fourth, respond: acknowledge, empathize, relate. Focus on their feelings.

Fifth, ask for their input into a solution: “what would be helpful to you”?

Interested in team training to practice these tips and responses? Give me a call.


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Team Privacy Training Events
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For Primary Care clinics, Children’s Aid and FHTs

Kate trains health professionals from many more primary care organizations how being privacy-respectful can improve therapeutic relationships. More details...

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Osgoode Professional Development – Mental health Certificate

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Primary care webinars: Managing Incapacity & Consent to Treatment

Part of Kate’s monthly webinar series.

Our October webinar is about managing incapacity, and the November title is Consent to Treatment.
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Privacy Officer training
January 20 & 27 and February 3,10 & 18, 2020

Kate is the program chair for the Osgoode Certificate in Privacy in Healthcare.

This program explores the range of privacy interests that must be protected in the day-to-day treatment of patients, the development of information systems and the creation of institutional policies. More details...

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