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Four Steps That Bring Happiness to Disgruntled Patients

The patient complained about the medical office and the healthcare team from the moment of arrival: the receptionist mumbled, the wait was too long, the chairs were uncomfortable, the scale was wrong, the nurse mispronounced her name, the doctor gave her bad advice, and the pills he wanted her to take were too expensive.

Male or female, old or young, in pain or not, disgruntled patients arrive at every medical office and haunt every healthcare team. Some healthcare teams ignore them; others wish them well and send them off to belabor some other office; but some turn the situation away, bringing happiness to the disgruntled patient with these four steps:

Step 1. Empower Patients 

Ask about the patient’s preferences, using the JB Partners’ technique of The Magic Question. This can begin with the first phone call: does the patient prefer a morning or afternoon appointment? It should continue through weigh in: the scale gives the patient’s weight in metric units; would the patient like to know the equivalent in pounds? 

While you are empowering unhappy patients, ask them what they would do to rectify the problem they are complaining about. You may get some unexpectedly good advice.

Every little decision gives disgruntled patients more control over their own unhappiness. 

Step 2. Change the conversation 

Change the conversation with a disgruntled patient from the immediate medical problem to how their problem affects their entire life. That conversation increases the value that disgruntled patients place upon the doctor’s advice and their willingness to consider procedures that are in their best interest.

Patients respond well to information about a particular therapy as the gateway to overall health. 

Step 3. Review Your Patient Service

To return to the original example of an unhappy patient, you can increase the number of happy patients by making sure your medical team knows what great patient service is and how to deliver it. Does the receptionist speak clearly; does everyone remember patient names; would you be comfortable waiting in your office?

Among other ways to create a great patient experience, as a medical team leader, make sure you stay on time, put patients at ease by asking about them and giving them some time to vent, apologize for any problems, and make eye contact. Your computer is not the only one in the room. A friendly smile and willingness to listen, rather than argue, diffuses much unhappiness before it escalates.

Step 4. Understand What “Unhappiness” Really Means

For example in a survey of 1077 plastic surgery patients, the survey revealed that the biggest complaints (nearly 70%) were aesthetic, not cost (less than 8%). Although the cost of medical care is rising and creating huge problems for patients and medical teams alike, by always asking before assuming you know where complaints are coming from.

Another survey, by GE Healthcare, revealed that happiest healthcare consumers are those who interact the least with the system. The biggest complaints of patients are that the healthcare team does not listen to their needs (34%) and are not sympathetic (36%). However, over 50% of senior healthcare leaders believe the team takes enough time to listen and demonstrates empathy for patients—that is a major disconnect.

The same GE Healthcare survey found that changes to a medical practice not only made disgruntled patients happier, but also reduced cancellations and patient noncompliance, lowered operating costs, improved financial performance, and increased employee satisfaction.


The four steps listed above are important because they set your mind in the direction of solutions, not assumptions. JB Partners LLC is a firm believer in creating a happy patient experience—and a more financially sound practice that places less stress on the entire medical team. Contact us to hear more about our experience, tools, and techniques: exactly what you need to help improve the patient experience in your medical office. 



One survey found that patients rank medical teams barely above 30% in listening to their needs while over 50% healthcare leaders believe their team shows plenty of empathy. How can medical teams fix that disconnect? #disgruntledpatients #medical team #healthcareleaders #JBPartners


Unhappy patients create a stressful, unhappy medical office—and ultimately, affect financial performance as well as patient health. Here are four steps to turn patient experience around. #disgruntledpatients #unhappypatients #patient experience #medicaloffice #JBPartners


Every decision that the medical team makes in concert with patients gives disgruntled patients more control over their own happiness. #disgruntledpatients #patientcare #patientservice #medicalteamleader #JBPartners


Jen Butler, MEd, BCC, DAIS

Jen Butler is the CEO and founder of JB Partners, LLC. Her passion is to work with dentists who have been held back by stress, fear and frustration and are committed to improving their business, leadership and stress management toolbox.