A complaint can happen to any dental professional at any time. In 2018 alone, we helped members in over 2,700 cases where a complaint had been made.
When facing a complaint, it’s reassuring to know you have an organisation with more than a century of experience behind you.
No two complaints are the same, so we take a flexible approach to handling them. We recommend following our ten-step approach to help get the best resolution for our members.
1. Train and prepare colleagues
Good communicators usually make good complaints handlers. Most members of
your dental team will have no formal training in communication or
complaints handling, so train them in these skills.
Untrained staff can then direct all complaints to the nearest trained
2. Actively identify complaints
Take a proactive approach to identifying complaints. Most dissatisfied
patients do not complain, they simply leave and go elsewhere which is not
good for business.
The aim is to encourage patients to tell you if they have a problem, before
they tell someone else! There are many ways of identifying dissatisfaction:
· Prominently display your complaints procedure.
· Train all staff to identify the ‘body language’ associated with
· Provide comment or feedback cards.
· Use patient surveys for those who wish to respond.
3. Accept complaints
Acknowledge all complaints quickly and give patients a copy of the
complaints procedure. This will tell them about the stages of the process
you have adopted and when they might expect a formal response.
A patient is more likely to react favourably if they know their complaint
has been heard and is being dealt with, even if a slight delay is
Take a moment to empathise with the patient and see things from their
63% of all UK dental non-claims opened in 2018 related to
4. Get the view of all parties involved
It’s important for the complaints co-ordinator to include all the relevant
people in the process.
- Identify all parties involved and seek their views.
- Co-ordinate the response so that everyone knows their role in the
5. Investigate fully
A frequent mistake in complaints handling is to provide a detailed response
before the investigation has finished and all the facts have been gathered.
Remember that any response to a complaint could form evidence considered at
a later hearing. Don’t be over-hasty in your response. Get the facts
straight and think it through.
In 2018, Dental Protection provided help in over 2,700 cases where
a complaint had been made against a member.
6. Resolve the dissatisfaction
It’s understandable for someone to become defensive when receiving a
complaint, especially if they see it as unreasonable or unfair. However,
defensiveness can be counterproductive to good complaints handling.
One common error that often results in a complaint, or even a counter
claim, is the aggressive pursuit of an outstanding fee when a patient has
complained about the quality of treatment provided.
Try to establish an approach to patient care that encourages feedback about
the patient’s perception of the service and the quality of care received.
7. Respond sympathetically
Complaints are best resolved at the lowest possible level, which doesn’t
always mean a formal written response. Many minor complaints can be
resolved on a one-to-one basis, following by a short letter to the patient
acknowledging the satisfactory resolution.
However, in most cases a written response is likely to be appropriate. This
may include an explanation, reassurance, apology, an offer of compromise or
a way forward.
Remember, as a Dental Protection member you can always request assistance
with complaint response letters.
8. Follow up
The hardest part of complaints handling is risking further contact with the
patient to ensure the complaint is being satisfactorily resolved. This may
not be appropriate in all cases, but it can be extremely helpful,
particularly when you want to retain the patient’s confidence.
The follow-up is a good opportunity to display your professional concern
and to rebuild a constructive relationship with the patient.
9. Learn from the problem
All complaints can teach us something. For future risk management it is
helpful to consider:
- How the complaint arose.
- What steps could have been taken to avoid the complaint in the first
- Was the complaint handled effectively?
- Did the practice/patient achieve the desired outcome?
- Do we need to make any changes to our procedures or protocols for the
- How to share any lessons learnt with the rest of the dental team.
10. Consider communication
Complaints need to be handled with:
- Fairness to all parties
A patient is more likely to accept the eventual outcome if they can see
their complaint has been taken seriously and has been investigated. This
fact needs to be communicated to the patient.
Research shows that patient’s expectations in complaints handling are quite
low. Never delay your response to their complaint; any perceived lack of
interest or care is the one thing that can transform a dissatisfied patient
into an angry obsessive, seeking vengeance against the dentist.