Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Patients

Most practices would have experienced a “difficult patient”. Unfortunately such patients can rob you of your time, stress your staff and create one big headache at the practice.

This post provides some practical advice and strategies when dealing with difficult patients.

Learn to recognise the highly stressed patient.

Feelings of high stress inevitably result in heightened responses from patients.
Such patients may do and say things they wouldn’t in other, less stressful circumstances.
Teach your staff to recognise high stress indicators. These may include any or all of the following:

  • Rapid voice
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loud voice
  • Closed body language such as arms folded, clenched jaw or fist.

A stressed and difficult patient may have sought many opinions for the same issue – this could be another indicator of their likelihood to be difficult.

 

Strategies to consider.

Counteract the stress indicators above by speaking softly, in a controlled manner.
Tilting your head and smiling may also help to appease the patient.

In your dealings with the patient, remind yourself that for them, the situation might be frightening/embarrassing/new. It is easy to forget this as processes are routine for you.

Explain thoroughly every process and procedure – this can gain confidence and reduce anxiety.

Let them speak – diffuse the situation by validating their issues/concerns.
Comments such as, “I understand…” shows empathy. Cutting them off or telling them that they are wrong, can enflame tempers greatly.

Ask how the practice can help? It is amazing how this can appease a situation and the patient can quickly offer an easy solution they are satisfied with. It also demonstrates a genuine interest in the patient’s welfare.

Aim to sit down with the patient in a private area. Don’t allow your discussion to be interrupted with phone calls, etc. where possible.

Tell the patient you appreciate their feedback and value their input and show a clear process of follow up for any concerns they have.

Consider that what the patient perceives to be real is real!  Try to view patients as a customer and respect the old adage “the customer is always right” were possible.

 

The above strategies will help to result in a more positive experience for the difficult patient and for you too!

Remember your brand…

Positive patient experiences = Raving fans for your practice.

 

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Caroline Chaplin
Director – RWS