The Dentist Magazine.

Effective in-house systems can nip complaints in the bud

Published: 31/05/2018

New evidence shows that having an effective, in-house complaints process in place and displayed in the practice can help to avoid complaints from escalating into claims and prevent a complaint being made directly to the General Dental Council (GDC), say Dental Protection.

In a YouGov survey, conducted on behalf of Dental Protection, 65 per cent of the public said they are not aware that dentists are required to provide a formal process for managing complaints from their patients. 16 per cent of the public surveyed also said they would consider complaining to the GDC about the treatment they received.

 

Dental Protection said it recognised that some dentists may be reluctant to display their complaints procedure, for fear of encouraging a complaint, but stressed that timely and effective management of a complaint within the practice can often nip complaints in the bud, and avoid them becoming more serious.

 

Raj Rattan, dental director at Dental Protection, said, “There is often a very small window of opportunity to nip complaints in the bud and dealing with them promptly, within the practice is often the most effective way of doing this. Dentists have an obligation to provide a formal written process for resolving complaints, so every team member knows what to do, and they should ensure patients are also aware of the process.

 

“This will help to prevent a patient taking a complaint into another forum such as formal complaints handling scheme, the GDC, or into the hands of a ‘no win no fee’ lawyer.

 

“While understanding and managing patients’ expectations before commencing treatment is key to avoiding complaints from occurring in the first place, it is just as important that dentists know how to manage a complaint effectively when one is received. This again will help to prevent it escalating.

“In the YouGov survey, when the public were asked what they would expect to happen if their treatment didn’t go as expected, 74 per cent said they would expect the dentist to offer further treatment to fix the problem at no additional charge, 36 per cent said they would expect the dentist to refer them to someone else to fix the problem, and 31 per cent said they would expect a refund. 50 per cent said they would expect an apology.

“Interestingly, when Dental Protection asked over 1000 of its members the same question, only 27 per cent thought patients would expect an apology.

“We would always encourage dentists to apologise if treatment does not go as expected. This is not the same as an admission of fault or liability, and should be offered at the earliest opportunity.  Dentists should then discuss further treatment options with the patient to ensure that any issues can be resolved in the practice. Dental Protection can assist with formulating a response to a complaint and assist and support through to a satisfactory resolution. We can also look at why complaints arise and how to minimise the risks of recurrence.

"There will always be patients who are dissatisfied with their treatment, or whose expectations are not met. Grasping the opportunity to resolve complaints at an early stage within the practice reduces the likelihood that the patient will raise the issue outside of the practice. It contains the risk and is likely to lessen the impact a complaint can have on the confidence of the individual team member involved.”