29 Jun 2016  •  Practice Management  •  7min read By  • Dr Jane Lelean

How to prevent and resolve patient complaints

Business coach Dr Jane Lelean talks us through the pneumonic PERFECT complaints, with hints and tips on how to prevent and swiftly resolve any complaints that come into your dental practice so that you can focus on providing great quality treatment for your dental patients.


Improve your rapport and dental patient engagement

Prevention is better than cure, this applies to dental disease and dental patient complaints. You may have been at dental protection lectures where you are shown two panoramics, one is from a dental patient who complained and one is from someone that didn’t.

You probably squinted at one of the films trying to find fault with the clinical work. The other would take your breath away – almost every tooth root filled, posts going through the sides of teeth, crowns and fillings with huge overhangs; a dental disaster. It was the dentist who did the excellent dentistry that was sued.

The patients were interviewed and the second patient didn’t sue because the dentist was helpful and the patient liked them; the first one sued because he didn’t have any emotional connection to the dentist. Building rapport and engaging with your patients on a human level is a major key to preventing complaints.

Learning from dental patient complaints

Many people view complaints as an unnecessary inconvenience from a customer who has unreasonable demands. More often than not, a complaint is a dental patient’s expression that they have not been treated appropriately. Rather than being an inconvenience, complaints can be a blessing that will help you transform your clinical practice and customer service. Rather than feeling resentful, embrace your complaints and use them as an opportunity to learn. We had a mantra in my practice that mistakes were okay, and they only ever happened once.

Improve your record-keeping

If it is not in your notes, it didn’t happen. Reading the outcomes of fitness to practise hearings in the GDC Gazette, the poor quality of note writing is often cited, and dentists are struck off for poor record-keeping. Make sure your records are as accurate, comprehensive and as understandable as they can be, and train your team in the importance of record keeping.


Prompting dental patient feedback

Complaints seldom come out of the blue, and there are usually warning signs in advance. Your dental patient might make a throwaway comment to the receptionist about how you seemed rushed, or they may ask your hygienist to explain the treatment again because they didn’t understand what you had said. They may even ask your receptionist if they can be moved to another dentist.

These are all tell-tale signs that you and your team are not delivering what your dental patients want. If this goes unheeded, this may result in a complaint further down the line. Rather than dismissing off-the-cuff comments, encourage them. Discuss them with your team to work out ways that you can prevent similar comments being made in the future.

Patient feedback questionnaires and patient feedback forums are a great way to discover areas where your patients think you can excel.

[blockquote cite=”Albert Einstein” type=”center”]“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”[/blockquote]

Look for the education opportunities at work

When preventing complaints, education is key. Areas for development may include clinical, communication, leadership or business skills.

You will probably want to educate your patients too; what they can expect from treatment, the upsides and downsides, what is their dental health status, their role and responsibilities in their treatment and maintenance, the culture of your practice, what they can expect from you and what you expect from them.

Your team will want to be educated as well, provided with the opportunity to learn clinical, communication and teamwork skills so that they can support your patients, you and their colleagues in providing high-quality dentistry in a delightful environment.

Improve your compliance procedure


Like other areas of dentistry, there are third parties who are interested in how you manage patient complaints.

It is essential that you have complaint procedures for your NHS and private patients that are compliant with the guidelines of the regulatory bodies and that you follow.

More information on creating compliant complaints procedures can be found on the websites from the GDC, Dental Protection and the Dental Complaints Service.

Engage your dental team in prevention and resolving complaints


Your dental team are often a lynchpin to preventing and successfully resolving complaints. The most common cause for complaints is a lack of rapport and subsequent misunderstanding which then spirals out of control. Rapport building and communication take time, especially when you are dealing with complicated treatment plans.

Developing your nurses and receptionists as treatment coordinators can be an invaluable way to enhance relationships with your patients, increase your patient education and obtain consent without taking you away from providing treatment.

When a significant event (near miss) or a complaint does come in across your desk, ensure that you have trained your team so they all have great communication skills and know their role in the prevention of complaints and implementation of the complaints procedure.

To prevent complaints, adopt an attitude of ‘do as you would be done by.’

Cornerstones of rapport building include:

  • allocating enough time
  • non-verbal communication
  • listening skills
  • verbal communication
  • remembering points of interest and significance
  • providing outstanding customer service

[blockquote cite=”Carl Rogers” type=”center”]“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change”[/blockquote]

About the author

Dr Jane Lelean is a successful international business coach and trainer working with clients in 57 market sectors. With her background as a dentist and experience of running her own successful practice, she has a passion for working with dental practices and their teams.

For more information about Jane’s consultancy, go to www.healthyandwealthy.co.uk


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