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How to Respond to a Patient Complaint Letter

When a service provider doesn’t meet their expectations, patients may submit a complaint. Maintain or regain their trust by crafting a compassionate patient complaint letter response.

Posted by Ann Snook on November 5th, 2019

Even when you strive to provide the best possible care to patients, residents and clients, things don’t always go as planned. When you don’t meet their expectations, frustrated patients may submit a complaint to your organization. In order to maintain or regain their trust, craft your patient complaint letter response in a professional, compassionate way.


Get started on your letter right away using our patient complaint letter response template.


Why Patients Complain


When they submit a complaint to your organization, patients aren’t always just looking to rant. Following an interaction that doesn’t go as planned, they may want:

  • further information about, and/or an apology for, their negative experience
  • to know about the steps you’ve taken to reduce the risk of a similar experience happening in the future
  • someone to accept accountability for their experience
  • compensation or waived fees for their perceived suffering


The Healthcare Insurance Reciprocal of Canada explains that “no matter what the cause, unmet expectations, poor communication and a level of dissatisfaction are often at the root of these complaints.”


RELATED: Reporting Patient Incidents: A Best Practices Guide


Steps to Respond to a Patient Complaint Letter


After you receive a patient complaint, launch an investigation into their concerns. Interview staff who cared for the patient or resident. Perform this step as quickly as possible, when the experience is still fresh in their minds. Remember, though, to only disclose the patient’s personal and medical information in accordance with privacy laws.

In addition, collect information about the complainant’s experience. For example, if they complained about long wait times, find data about the volume of patients during their visit. Based on your investigation, take action (if possible) to reduce the risk of the negative experience happening again.

Next, start drafting your patient complaint letter response. Respond first in writing, but invite the complainant to contact you for a face-to-face meeting, if warranted. Send your response as quickly as possible to keep a small issue from growing into a formal complaint, or even a lawsuit.


Download our free eBook to learn how case management software can help you manage complaints effectively.


Patient Complaint Letter Response Structure


First, open your letter with a courteous and professional salutation. Add a subject line to acknowledge that you received the complaint.

Next, explain the purpose of your letter, referencing the concerns they shared in their complaint letter. Then apologize for the patient’s experience. If someone has passed away, express your condolences.

In the body of your reply, explain that you have investigated the patient’s concerns and share the outcomes of your review. Explain why each issue they experience happened. Add the lessons your organization has learned as a result of the complaint. Include steps you’re taking to prevent the issue from happening again, too. Express your regret again.

Finally, finish your patient complaint letter response with an offer of further contact. Share contact information they can use should they have additional questions or concerns.


RELATED: What to Look for in a Complaint Management System


Do’s and Don’ts


Do proofread well. A response rife with misspelled words or a sloppy layout makes it look like you don’t care. Ask a colleague to review your reply before you send it.

Don’t be confrontational or defensiveEven if you think the patient is in the wrong, acknowledge their concerns. Often, people just want to feel heard, so dismissing their complaint could escalate a minor problem.

Do show compassion. Take an empathetic tone and apologize for the distress the patient feels.

Don’t take patient complaint letter responses lightly. Should a patient file a legal claim against your organization, your response could be used in court. At best, a dissatisfied patient could post your reply online with negative commentary to “call you out.”

Do stay professional. You’re sending a patient complaint response letter on behalf of your institution, so make sure it’s professional. A respectful tone, clean appearance and timely delivery are essential.

Don’t share sensitive information. Follow privacy laws when referencing the patient’s personal and medical information. Additionally, don’t reference staff performance (i.e. if the nurse who was short with them got fired) to protect their privacy.

Do present the facts. Stay as objective as you can, sharing factual information about your investigation into their concern. Passing judgements or expressing opinions will only aggravate the patient more.

Don’t write a complicated response. Maintain clear and consistent formatting throughout the letter. Avoid using medical jargon. Opt for plain language instead.

Don’t dismiss their concerns. Even if the patient’s concern seems minor to you, they were displeased enough to write you a letter about it, so don’t shrug it off. Launch an investigation and send an apology to every complainant.

Ann Snook
Ann Snook

Marketing Writer

Ann is a marketing writer at i-Sight Software. She writes about issues related to investigations of fraud, employee misconduct, corporate security, Title IX, ethics & compliance and more.

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