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Should You Complain to Your Doctor?

Providing Feedback Can Improve Service, But It Needs to Be Handled Well

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Updated June 20, 2013

Have you ever wished you could provide feedback to your doctor about how you were treated by him or his staff?

Sometimes it's difficult to communicate with our medical providers. Patients report being intimidated, afraid of speaking up or explaining why they are confused or frustrated in the process of being diagnosed and treated by their doctors or doctor's staff members.

When you get frustrated or feel as if your doctor is not treating you fairly, it's time to decide whether providing that feedback will improve your experience, or whether it's time instead to change doctors.

Doctors are Service Providers

Many of us are intimidated by a doctor and the protocol that goes along with an appointment, tests, being diagnosed or treated -- the entire process is beyond our comfort level, and we aren't sure how to conduct ourselves.

Most of our visits to the doctor are made because we don't feel well or we are hurt. We can't think straight or stick up for ourselves when we are partially clothed, in a cold, sterile room, sitting on an examining table, talking to someone who uses a language we don't understand and who seems to be in a hurry. Anything that subtracts from our being 100% in charge of our thought processes makes it even more difficult to handle the experience.

Many patients put their doctors on some sort of pedestal as if doctors are "better" than they are. But most doctors don't want to be there, and they don't want us to be intimidated. Most very much want to make your experience with them and their offices a positive and successful one. After all, you are their patient, their customer, their client. They want to heal you, or help you get better, and they want your experience to be as pleasant as possible. When you are pleased with your experience, then you'll share that information with others. It helps keep your doctor in business.

Think of your doctor as a service provider, not unlike your auto mechanic, hairdresser, or tax return preparer. Granted, she has years of very specialized education, and she is taking care of your body, not your car, hair or taxes. Even still, she is just that -- a service provider -- and she should be expected to provide decent and effective service, barring unforeseen problems.

If you thought there was a problem with the work your mechanic or tax preparer performed, you would say something, right? You owe the same to your healthcare providers.

Feedback? or Complaints?

The point to providing feedback should be to help improve the overall experience for all participants. That means that when we patients make an observation we want to share with our providers, it is as important to be as objective as we can.

Just complaining isn't enough, and probably won't work anyway. Of course, when we are upset, or feel as if we have not been treated well or fairly, it's tough to be objective about the experience. Complaints come very easily.

Therefore, objectivity is important, because presenting both positives and negatives to the right person will mean you have a better chance of being heard. Patients who do nothing but complain will be labeled as chronic complainers, and office personnel who can actually make positive changes will stop listening. But patients who provide feedback in a more objective, constructive way will find they are taken far more seriously.

The key, then, is to determine what situations are worth providing feedback about, and then providing it to the right person in the right way.

What Feedback is Important?

Chances are the feedback you want to provide is negative. Remember that if all participants are going to benefit, then feedback needs to be balanced. Complaints and compliments together will help you make your point, and will ensure your point is heard. When it's truly understood, there is a better chance something will be done about the problems, too.

Try to think about the positives as much as you think about the negatives. Is your doctor always pleasant? Do you feel as if the treatment you receive is correct for your health problem? Is the staff pleasant? Do they remind you about appointments? Is the billing always accurate? Those, taken together with your complaints, will help smooth the edges.

If you can't find positives to go along with your complaints, then it may be time to consider changing doctors instead of providing feedback. Further, if the problems you have had are exceptionally difficult, you may want to consider filing a more formal complaint against the doctor.

But if you know the relationship is worth keeping, then you'll want to proceed with providing feedback. Once you have given your complaints and positives some depth of thought, it will be time to share that information with your doctor or his staff.

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