'Unfair' complaints? Handle them anyway

Contact responsible departments

A patient's complaint that the TV didn't work in her room obviously had nothing to do with your patient access department. If a patient mentioned this to you, would you do anything about it?

"If I pick up on something like that, I will go to engineering and talk to them. Keith Weatherman, CAM, MHA, associate director of service excellence for the corporate revenue cycle at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, NC. "Traditionally, a complaint like that could have been overlooked."

A patient might give a low score for a question involving registration on the organizationwide Press Ganey survey, when their dissatisfaction had nothing at all to do with patient access areas, acknowledges Weatherman. Even so, he says it's in your best interest to take responsibility for the complaint.

"When patients get these surveys, we can't sit there and walk through the survey with them. We just have to take what they say and interpret it," he says.

If Weatherman notices low satisfaction survey scores of certain clinics or ambulatory surgery areas, he goes to speak to the managers of those areas to find a solution. "They have their own registration folks, and they don't report to the revenue cycle, but we need to get away from the mindset of finger-pointing," he says. "The complaint may not involve us, but I'm not satisfied with that. Even if it isn't our 'fault,' it's still our responsibility."

Excellent customer service by patient access staff can put patients at ease, even if they're already unhappy due to problems that occurred in other areas of the hospital, says Amy Carr, admitting supervisor for Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN. "We can put a stop to dissatisfaction caused by other factors that we, admitting staff, have no control over," says Carr. "We let the patients know that they are our top priority."

Members of the patient access staff don't blame other areas for delays, Carr adds; instead, they convey the message that everyone is working together.

"We make sure we are 'elevating' our colleagues, instead of blaming others," she says. "This shows good teamwork and provides a sense of comfort for our patients."