Ever get a nasty letter from a ticked-off patient? Here's how to defuse the situation

Every doctor is bound to receive a poison-pen letter from a patient from time to time. Billing disputes, misunderstandings, and complaints about medical care or treatment by staff can all spark irate correspondence. Tempted as you may be, you can't afford to simply ignore such letters. Many's the malpractice suit that was preceded by a complaint that went unanswered.

So what's the best way to respond to these missives without wasting your time, further alienating your angry patient, or giving in to unreasonable demands? We asked our practice management experts for their advice.

When the letter is about a bill

"Billing is probably the issue that generates the most irate letters," says David Karp, a risk management and loss prevention consultant in Cloverdale, CA. "After all, billing is the second biggest thing going on in the office.".

But you don't want to respond to a complaint letter about a bill yourself. "It's a very poor use of a physician's time. Let a staff person respond, preferably by phone first," says Geoffrey T. Anders of The Health Care Group in Plymouth Meeting, PA.

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