Background: Patient satisfaction affects consistency of self-care, health outcomes, level of service utilization, choice of health professionals, and decisions to sue in the face of adverse outcomes. Understanding patients' specific dissatisfactions may help health professionals and administrators identify and rectify organizational deficiencies before they become costly.
Common causes of complaints: As part of a series of research projects, more than 12,000 patient/family complaint narratives were examined in which patients or patients' family members told interviewers or patient advocates about the care they received from their health professionals in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Complaints may be categorized as involving issues of care and treatment, communication, humaneness, access and availability, environment, and billing/payment.
Strategies for resolving complaints: Even though caregivers may not have control over all the factors that lead to dissatisfaction, they can often hear and address complaints. As a result, they may not only contribute to quality of care but improve the systems in which they practice. The challenges are how to prevent dissatisfaction in the first place, and, if it does occur, to identify and if possible rectify patient concerns. Three case studies are provided.
Conclusion: All health professionals must be involved in efforts to resolve problems that compromise patient care. Some problems could be prevented if administrators and leaders used complaint data to recommend new policies and procedures or to identify and counsel with health care team members who generate disproportionate numbers of complaints. If all are involved in both prevention and problem solving, resources devoted to uncovering, understanding, and resolving patient complaints are likely to prove cost-effective.