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Reflecting on the communication process in health care. Part 2: the management of complaints

25 July 2019
Volume 28 · Issue 14


This is Part 2 of a two-part article on the communication process in healthcare practice. Part 1 focused on clinical practice in relation to breaking bad news. In Part 2, the focus is on the management of complaints, including the communication process, and the subsequent emotional impact on the health professional. Efficient management of complaints is vital to ensure positive outcomes for all stakeholders—patients, health professionals and the organisation. Reflection is a highly beneficial tool and this process is used to acknowledge the impact of a complaint on the author, other health professionals and the health organisation, and propose ways in which management of this highly sensitive issue could be improved in the future

Part 1 of this article was concerned with reflecting on communication in clinical practice, particularly with regard to breaking bad news in an oncology setting (Anderson, 2019). The initial inspiration for Part 2 was the receipt of a formal complaint by the author, a uro-oncology clinical nurse specialist (UCNS). This raised some pertinent questions about the communication process in the author's organisation. These included the management of the complaint, the issue of poor communication and its ensuing impact on the UCNS's feelings—chiefly the impact on her sense of professionalism, morale, self-esteem and overall confidence. The receipt of this complaint has also prompted reflection on the impact of the complaint and its handling on the UCNS's colleagues, and the organisation's management of the complaints process.

As stated by Gage (2016), complaints and their management are an important indicator of the quality of care. Therefore, effective management of complaints is central to improving services and achieving an open, honest and transparent health service. Emphasis is placed on the communication process. It is important to acknowledge the challenges involved in handling complaints and propose ways in which the complaints procedure could be reconfigured to ensure positive outcomes for all those concerned. The topics for discussion include: the emotional impact of receiving a complaint, the difficulties surrounding statement requests, poor communication, respect and feedback, and the health organisation's responsibility to the person making the complaint and to its staff.

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