Doctors often feel as if everyone who is not a doctor is judging them. The result is that once a complaint process starts, doctors tend to turn into their own worst enemies. The goal is to be alert to a situation starting and stop
it, or if things have already hit the fan, to respond in a way that shows you’re in control. Here are my five rules of pre-emptive risk management:
[1] No one who has their own problems to deal with cares about your issues.
[2] Inflexibility only makes it worse.
[3] What you say will eventually be retold by someone else in a way that only serves them.
[4] What you don’t do initially on terms that you control, you will end up doing under circumstances that are a lot worse for you.
[5] What you don’t document to your advantage in your own words will be used later by the other side to your disadvantage.
What follows are rules on how to blunt a complaint. There are only four this time. Number one, even though you were defending yourself, don’t be defensive. That just piques a reviewer’s interest in what more might be going on. Two, remember that your standard is always to be reasonable under the circumstances, not just medically, but interpersonally. You want to show that you were reasonable at each step. Three, and this is important, allow the complainer to save face if possible. Remember that your goal is to stop the problem, not to win an ongoing fight. And by the way, that can really impress a reviewer. They know that you’re seething so showing that you can put professionalism and respect for patients and staff members first, even when you’re angry, will go a long way. And number four, be as brief as possible and use simple declarative sentences. This not only keeps the reviewer on track with your story, it prevents you from wandering off into statements that you’ll regret later. The best way to know that you’ve done it right is that you won’t be happy with the result. If you’re emotionally unsatisfied, it will mean that you focused on what really matters in the situation rather than how you were made to feel or remember. Putting an unjustified complaint behind you is the best feeling.