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The key to complaints handling is a flexibility of approach

The complaints handling process should adapt to the needs of a patient and not the other way round, although there is no single way to handle a complaint, there are 10 key steps that should always be considered.

  • 1. Preparation and training

  • 2. Identifying complaints

  • 3. Accepting complaints

  • 4. Obtaining the views of all the parties involved

  • 5. Investigating fully

  • 6. Resolving the dissatisfaction

  • 7. Responding sympathetically

  • 8. Following-up

  • 9. Learning from the problem

  • 10. Communicating


In a country like South Africa where the level of litigation and HPCSA involvement is increasing, it is essential to have an effective in-house complaints procedure and to make sure that your patients are aware that their concerns can be fully addressed at a local level.

Patients tend to take their complaints down formal channels (e.g. to the HPCSA or to an attorney) when they don’t realise that an informal, effective resolution system is available within the practice, and/or when they don’t have any confidence that their complaint will be taken seriously and resolved effectively direct with the practice, or the dentist involved.

Invite patients to let you know if they are not happy with any aspect of the care, treatment or service they have received. It is sometimes a good idea to have a single, named person who is responsible for patient satisfaction and ‘customer care’ in all its forms – this might include patient feedback (survey) exercises as well as dealing with complaints. Give this person a high profile in your practice so that patients will have the confidence to contact this person before considering any escalation of their complaint to bodies outside the practice.

Click here to view a draft practice complaints policy.

Complaints Handling FAQs

  • A patient has complained about treatment that I provided, she is known to complain often. Can I just ignore her?

  • If I refund a patient their fees in response to a complaint, am I admitting liability?