If you’ve ever worked in any customer/client/patient-facing role for any reasonable length of time, you’ve probably encountered a mad human or two (in both the angry and psychotic sense of the word). Whether or not they actually take it one step further and make an official complaint about you is irrelevant- something went wrong and somebody is now sobbing in the corner (either the patient or yourself or maybe even both).
I think you’ll find a couple of different views on this topic. Some people are of the philosophy that the customer (or patient) is always right, and if they walk away angry then you, as the clinician or customer service rep, must have done something horribly wrong. However, I don’t think it’s inconceivable that some patients are actually just total twats and no matter what you do they just want to be angry. Does that mean that we don’t at least try to mollify them and rectify the situation? Well no, we still try. But even if they storm out in a huff I don’t think it necessarily means you were a nasty nasty person or you’ve failed at your job.
One of the first complaints that came my way was that I was “too efficient”. Like… what do I even say to that – “I’m sorry, I’ll try to dawdle a bit more and be less thorough next time”? Ultimately I figured this 75y.o lady meant that I didn’t give her enough time to chit chat and tell me her life story, which I have since learnt that most 75y.o ladies like to do. Other complaints I’ve received have involved more words but even less reasonable grounds for complaint. An example is an elderly man who worked himself up because he wanted to be referred to Epworth Hospital Geelong as he said he had been there before but when I gave him the business card of an ophthal he angrily pointed out that the address said Waurn Ponds. Yes, I said, Epworth Geelong is in the suburb of Waurn Ponds.
I CAN READ WOMAN, said he. I want to go to Epworth Geelong but I ain’t driving to Waurn Ponds.
This is Epworth Geelong, said I. But the address is just technically in Waurn Ponds so you would have actually already driven there in the past when you went to Epworth.
Long story short, turns out he meant an entirely different hospital he had attended in the past in Geelong centre, not Epworth Geelong at all. But realising his own mistake didn’t stop him from sending a complaint to my boss that I had made a big deal that he’d gotten the names of the hospitals mixed up. Did I actually make any belittling comment that he’d gotten the names wrong? Nope. Did he feel dumb that he’d gotten so worked up about Epworth being in Waurn Ponds when he didn’t mean Epworth in the first place at all? Evidently. Did he accuse me of making him feel dumb? He sure did. (Was he dumb for getting all up in my grill for his own mix up? Well… no comment).
Ultimately I’m not sure if I could have done anything else to defuse the situation because I myself was also getting more and more confused the more times he told me the address said Waurn Ponds (how many times can you say, yes Epworth Geelong is in Waurn Ponds). But what I’ve figured out from that experience is that sometimes patients really are just twats. Sometimes they come in looking for a fight or they’re just waiting for you to say anything that they can take the wrong way and then they pounce as soon as you say anything, or they’re already in a bad mood from something else and nothing you can do is right. Once I gave an irate patient a coffee voucher for the café next door as an apology for running (10mins) late for her appointment which meant she had to put an additional $2 into the parking metre; she came back 2mins later and literally threw the voucher on the desk, snapped “the café is closed!” and flounced off.
If you’re a young clinician who’s received a recent complaint from a patient, consider it and take any relevant learning points on board but don’t be discouraged. This post isn’t to say that we as clinicians still don’t have things to work on when it comes to patient communication and bedside manner, we don’t want our patients to storm out in a huff after seeing us. My point is that for some patients there’s just no pleasing them. And if you’re a young clinician who has never received a complaint then good on you, but just you wait, it’s only a matter of time! We live in a world full of twats. Some of them even get elected as president of an entire country.