Clearing the Air: Recognizing, Managing, and Diffusing Patient Dissatisfaction

Edward Esses Ahmed Rizvi Charles Lugo Chaitanya Shilagani Perry Gerard
Department of Radiology, Westchester Medical Center, USA


Patients have a right to file a complaint if they are dissatisfied with their care. Negative patient experiences can have negative consequences for a radiology department, and even compromise patient safety. Complaints are also a vehicle for quality improvement. We enumerate common complaints that arise in radiology departments; outline ways to best manage those complaints and improve service quality; and educate the audience about common barriers to effective management of complaints. Barriers to effective management of patient complaints are reviewed.


Prevention is the primary goal. A Radiology department should determine the most common inciting events submitted by patients and other visitors. Employees should strive to anticipate complaints before they arise, and take action to diffuse the situation. We review strategies to do this effectively. However, prevention is not always possible; sometimes there is valid reason for a complaint. Strategies are discussed to expertly manage these situations and ensure complainants are heard, and handled appropriately.


Staff unawareness of an existing problem is a significant barrier to managing a patient complaint. When dissatisfaction is discovered or suspected, immediate action is suggested. Delay often causes more harm than good, and resolution can also lead to improvements in both patient safety (i.e. when an error or inefficiency is discovered) and satisfaction. Complaints should be acknowledge right away, and handled in a professional, efficient, and non-defensive manner.

Aside from the original inciting event, patients are also often dissatisfied with the way complaints are handled. Negative public preconceptions about the way their complaint will be handled may prove hard to change. An established technique for handling patient complaints is reviewed, and its application to radiology departments is explained.


Effective management of complaints is critical to running a successful radiology department. Radiology departments should strive to anticipate common patient complaints; create an environment that prevents them; and have systems in place to remedy them. Anticipating, recognizing, and diffusing patient complaints can ultimately improve patient satisfaction and safety.

Edward Esses
Edward Esses