Proven responses for access complaints

A message left by a patient on the voicemail of Brian Sauders, manager of patient access services at Indiana University Health North Hospital in Carmel, stated that although the service was quick and effective, she perceived the registration experience to be "cold."

"She didn't feel like the registrar cared about her. I called her back, and we spoke for about an hour," says Sauders.

After Sauders followed up with the team member regarding her perceived behaviors, he called the patient back to let her know he'd done so and to remind her to contact him if she ever had another bad experience with the team.

"Two things came out of that follow-up call," says Sauders. First, the woman indicated that she originally had no intention of coming back, but changed her mind because Sauders deemed it important enough to listen carefully to her feedback. Secondly, the once-dissatisfied patient became a valuable resource for Sauders.

"We had a series of phone calls over the next few months. She would tell me about her experiences and give tips," he says.

Even if a patient has a good experience, Sauders still contacts him or her to learn more, as with a patient who called to express her gratitude to staff she came in contact with during an outpatient visit. "I called her back to thank her for taking the time to acknowledge the great work that occurs daily at IU Health North," he says. "Once I explained my role, she went on to rave about how wonderfully quick, polite, and nice the patient access team has been at each visit."

Sauders says that when it comes to service, patient access teams should never accept the "status quo." "We should always be striving for something better," he says. "You can still be accurate and efficient while building a relationship with your customer."

Unfounded complaints

An angry patient claimed to be right on time for her appointment, but Jan Fowler, director of patient accounting at Saint Vincent Health Center in Erie, PA, learned that in fact, she arrived very late.

"According to the patient, it was our processes, or perhaps our 'forgetting' about them being in the lobby, that caused them to be late," says Fowler.

Another patient insisted he waited two hours before being registered which made him late for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) diagnostic test, says Fowler. However, the log book showed he was in the registration area for just 27 minutes. "The patient had originally arrived 10 minutes late and had then gone to the cafeteria before going to radiology," she explains.

Even in cases such as this, Fowler says to avoid calling the patient on the inaccuracy, and offer an apology. "Avoid saying anything that puts blame on the patient," she advises.

Barb Novak, revenue cycle manager at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, IL, says that even if a complaint is unfounded, there is some value in learning the information.

"Offer a sincere apology, and show compassion," Novak says. "Then assess if there are any process opportunities that could be implemented to improve the patient experience. There is something from just about every patient concern that we can learn from."


For more information on patient complaints, contact:

• Candace Gray, MHSA, CMPE, CPEHR, Admitting/Registration, BayCare Health System, Clearwater, FL. Phone: (813) 852-3075. Fax: (813) 635-2652. E-mail:

• Barbara Novak, Revenue Cycle Manager, Central DuPage Hospital, Winfield, IL. Phone: (630) 933-6514. E-mail:

• Brian Sauders, Patient Access Services, Indiana University Health North Hospital, Carmel. Phone: (317) 688-3032. E-mail: