How to Handle Patients Complaints as a CNA

Ever had a patient complain about your bedside manner? I have. It is tough to be put on the spot, especially when you are trying your best to provide excellent care for patients. We all know that there are some days where it just does not go our way, but being able to handle complaints with professionalism and grace can help prevent any bad feelings from developing between you and the patient. Here are some tips on how CNAs can better deal with complaints in their day-to-day work.

What’s your first instinct when someone complains at work?

You might feel defensive or embarrassed, which could lead to an argument or more frustration if they’re not satisfied with what you say next. Instead of reacting impulsively, try practicing the “three Ds”: delay, digest and decide.

  • Delay – by saying something like, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”  It is easy to respond too quickly when a patient complains about your work. Let them know they’ve been heard by using an empathetic statement or question before moving forward with the conversation.
  • Digest – what the patient is saying by repeating what you just heard back to them. For example, “What I’m hearing from you is that you’re feeling frustrated with the care provided at this hospital.” You are checking for accuracy of their initial complaint as well as making sure they are being heard. Sometimes it helps to write things down if it it easier to understand all the details the first time.
  • Decide – whether or not you need to apologize or take additional action. If the complaint is genuine, then by all means apologize and if possible, offer a solution. For example, “I’m sorry I didn’t explain this medication well enough for you to understand.” Or “I should have talked to Dr. Jones before giving this medication so she could be aware of your allergy.” Apologizing does not necessarily mean that you are admitting fault; it simply shows them that they are heard and their concerns are valid even though sometimes it cannot be resolved at that moment.

Listen to the patient’s complaint respectfully

Listen to your patients what they have to say. Let them know that you are taking their concerns seriously, and that you would like to work toward resolving the problem together. If they are not being respectful in return, then it is within your right to ask them to discuss the issue in a different manner.

Validate their feelings

Even if you don’t agree with or understand what they are feeling, it is important that you validate the patient’s emotions. For example, “I can see how upsetting this would be for you” or “It sounds like this isn’t making things any better.” By taking the time to acknowledge and validate whatever the patient is feeling in that moment, before moving forward with a plan of action to solve the problem at hand, they will feel heard by you which in turn will create trust between yourself and your patient. Patients who feel unheard will likely not return to receive care from your team again.

Identify the issue

Sometimes the complaint might be confusing for both parties involved because there are too many parts or because one party does not understand what is going on with the other. Be sure to stay calm when rephrasing what has been said so that all of the issues are clear. This can help prevent tense situations from escalating further.

Take responsibility if needed

If you feel that you have done something wrong or made a mistake, then it is okay to admit that you are sorry. Acknowledge what happened, apologize if needed, and make it clear how you will fix the situation. Even if you feel like you were not at fault, taking responsibility can go a long way because it shows the patient that they matter to you.

Offer a solution if possible

While it might not always be possible to offer a solution, there are some instances where it can be done without compromising any current rules of care. For example, if your patient’s pain medication isn’t helping to reduce their discomfort at all, you could offer a different pain medication to help them feel better.

Follow-up later on down the road

Lastly, following up with your patients after some time passes is important so that you can evaluate how well the solution(s) you came up with worked. It is also a good opportunity to check-in on your patient’s overall satisfaction with their care at your hospital or clinic, and whether they will need any additional help resolving issues.

Keep calm and carry on with your shift

It is easy to let a patient’s complaint get under our skin or make us feel defensive, but try not to show it. Remember that they are entitled to their opinions and there is no way of knowing how another nurse might have handled the situation differently in his/her place. Be polite and respectful throughout the conversation and remember that there is still more work left for you do before your shift ends!

As a nurse, it is important that you are aware of the complaints your patients might have about their care. Doing so will promote trust between yourself and your patient which can lead to higher satisfaction with their overall hospital or clinic experience.

Remember: when trying to resolve complaints from patients, try not to take things personally and never argue with them or get defensive. They’re just looking for answers and want what’s best for themselves and their loved ones while they’re in your care. Let them know how much you appreciate their feedback, even if it isn’t positive all of the time!