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Handle Patient Complaints at Your Independent Pharmacy in 5 Steps

Handling Patient Complaints at Your Independent Pharmacy in 4 Steps by Elements magazine |

July 29, 2021

A patient sends your pharmacy an email complaining that she waited for over 30 minutes for her prescription, and that the pharmacist was neither friendly nor helpful.

How do you handle the situation?

Although criticism from patients is inevitable, learning to handle it effectively is vital to maintaining good relationships and improving your business.

Follow these five steps to effectively handle patient complaints at your independent community pharmacy.

Step 1: Cool off

When you receive a complaint, it’s natural to want to respond immediately. But doing so may actually make the situation worse.

If you can, take a break to collect yourself before addressing criticism and allow yourself to get some perspective.

For example, if a patient writes a review about the poor service they received at your pharmacy, wait a few hours to respond. Talk to your employees to figure out what may have gone wrong. Then, write a professional apology and find out what you can do to alleviate the patient’s concern and ensure he returns to your pharmacy.

If you have an irate patient in your waiting area, you can’t take a few hours to address the issue, but you can take a few deep breaths before you dive into the complaint. Staying calm — even when the patient isn’t — is key to effectively addressing their issue.

Step 2: Acknowledge their feelings

Actively listen when a patient comes to you with a complaint. By having an open ear, you will be able to tell what headspace the patient is in and determine the best way to appease them.

After they’ve said their piece, acknowledge that what they have experienced is frustrating and validate their feelings. Even if you don’t think their complaint is legitimate, what matters is that they feel something is wrong.

Confirm you are on the same page by repeating what they’ve said. Then, assure them that you understand the complaint and are taking it seriously. Sometimes, just having their position validated will help appease an upset patient.

Step 3: Apologize

No matter what a patient complaint is about, you’re going to have to apologize. This might be difficult, especially if you don’t agree with the basis of the complaint, but apologizing doesn’t mean you’re agreeing with the complaint or accepting blame for it.

Instead, the apology is for the inconvenience the patient is facing. It shows them that you are truly listening and that you are going to make a good faith effort to resolve the situation.

Step 4: Identify and execute a solution

The most important part of addressing a complaint is finding a way to make it right. You may have to ask a few questions to find a solution that is both amenable to the patient and reasonable for you.

Don’t break any pharmacy policies to try to make a patient satisfied, but you can go above and beyond. If a patient arrived at the pharmacy and their prescription wasn’t ready as promised, deliver it to their house for free instead of making them wait or come back later.

Whatever you decide on, make sure it’s something you can actually follow through on. If you start offering $100 gift cards to every patient with a complaint, that may become financially unsustainable.

Step 5: Follow up

Making up for a bad experience can actually make a patient more loyal than they were before the incident because it demonstrates how much you care about them.

Cinch that loyalty by following up with patients after a complaint. Take the opportunity to apologize and find out if they are still satisfied with the solution.

You may not be able to win back everyone with a complaint, but don’t automatically dismiss all complaining patients as lost causes.

Bonus tips for handling complaints

These tips can help you deal with customer complaints gracefully.

Don’t take it personally

It can be easy to get offended by a complaint about your pharmacy and the services you provide, especially if the patient is being rude.

But don’t take the complaint as a personal attack. Even if it’s not delivered politely, the complaint could have useful information to help you improve your business.

If you let your emotions get the best of you when handling a complaint, you could risk losing that patient’s business forever — and it could damage your wider reputation if the patient tells their friends and family in the community.

Don’t challenge 

The old adage goes, “The customer is always right,” and even though that might chafe at you, this is particularly true when you are addressing patient complaints.

When a patient comes to you with a complaint that’s based on their own misperception or an unreasonable expectation, it can be incredibly tempting to push back and correct them. But challenging a patient while they are upset is one of the quickest ways to make a small problem into a big one.

For the sake of civility, accept your patient’s version of events (at least while you’re talking to them). If they say a pharmacy employee was rude to them, questioning the patient will make it feel like you’re saying you don’t believe them. You can go back to your employee later to get their side of the story, but in the moment, operate under the assumption that the patient’s story is accurate.

Learn from the experience 

At the end of the day, whether or not the complaint was justified, every dissatisfied customer provides an opportunity to learn and improve your processes.

Document each complaint and what action was taken to remedy it. You may notice a pattern in the types of complaints you are receiving.

Having a concrete record will help you implement improvements. You may decide to change your communication method when it comes to a particular service to decrease misunderstandings, or you could make a tweak to your workflow to improve your wait times during the afternoon rush hour.

Not every complaint will lead to a major overhaul of pharmacy procedure, but it’s critical you don’t dismiss complaints without thinking about how to avoid them in the future.


A Member-Owned Organization Serving Independent Pharmacies

PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy side of their business. The member-owned company serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, expert contract negotiations, proprietary purchasing tools, distribution services, and more.

An HDA member, PBA Health operates its own NABP-accredited warehouse with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products.

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