7 Tips for Handling Difficult Patients
Difficult patients are unavoidable and dealing with them often leads to increased stress levels within your practice. They can create unpleasant situations that have a negative effect on staff when things don’t go their way. Responding appropriately to angry patients keeps stress away and prevents these types of situations from escalating into full-blown conflicts. Follow the 7 tips outlined below to handle even the most exasperating patients with empathy and professionalism.
1. Don’t Get Defensive
The patients anger probably didn’t originate during their visit, rather it was triggered from something else they have going on in their life. Be sure to keep your perspective straight and your mind on an appropriate solution to the issue they’re facing. Even when you know you did nothing wrong, it’s always best to respond with care and concern.
2. Watch Your Body Language
If possible, sit down. This shows you have time to solve the problem. Your body will tell the story of your emotions better than your words do. When patients are angry, they are likely to push your buttons and may make you angry too. Recognize when you are responding in this manner so you can control your words, tone, body language and overall response to get the outcome you desire.
3. Let Them Tell Their Story and Listen Quietly
Difficult patients will often reveal the source of their concern. It’s best to wait until they’ve calmed down so you can take a deep breath and collect your thoughts before responding. Use the patient’s name, speak softly and maintain eye contact. This conveys openness and honesty. Don’t interrupt and mirror their words. The patient may be resistant, defensive or even frightened.
4. Acknowledge the Situation
Start by saying, “I understand why you are upset” or “I feel our communication has been broken down”. Most importantly, remain calm and take stock of your own emotions. Avoid negative language which may lead to escalation of the situation.
5. Set Boundaries
Keep yourself, your patients and colleagues safe by staying in control while defusing the situation. It’s okay to end a consultation if a patient is becoming increasingly angry and you don’t think the situation is going to improve – particularly if you feel there is an imminent risk of physical aggression.
6. Administer Patient Satisfaction Surveys
This gives your patients an opportunity to share their concerns. Doing so may prevent them from voicing their complaints with online review sites. Tell your patients that you take their feedback seriously.
7. Be Proactive
Perhaps the most important tip, don’t ignore the problem or avoid communicating with an angry patient. As much as you wish it would, the problem is unlikely to go away on its own. It is important for practices to recognize when a patient is angry, determine the cause of the anger and implement these de-escalation techniques to improve care.