How to Handle a Difficult Patient

How to handle a difficult patientWe all have difficult patients. One difficult patient can possibly ruin the whole day.  That being said, no one can actually ruin our day.  If we look at every situation and say to ourselves how can we make this patient happy, or how can we solve this problem with a good attitude, then we will have less stress and continue to have a great day.

So, how can we do this?  It sounds almost impossible at times. Here is a three step formula that will work just about every time. 

1. Whatever the complaint is, the first thing you need to do is repeat the complaint back to the patient.  For example, the patient states he has been waiting too long and seems very irate, then you need to repeat that frustration back to the patient as follows: “So, Mr. Jones, just to make sure I understand, you have been waiting for 30 minutes pass your appointment time, is this correct?”  Use a tone of empathy and do not be condescending.  “Yes, it is, says Mr. Jones.” The reason you repeat back the complaint is it makes the patient feel you are actively listening to him.  People want to be heard and understood. 

2. The second step is to truly make the patient feel you understand their problem.  This is done simply by saying, “Mr. Jones, I don’t blame you for being upset.  I would be too.  I am so sorry for not informing you that we had an emergency.  “Put yourself in the patient’s shoes.  Even if the complaint seems unreasonable, try to    empathize with the patient and say something to the affect, “if I was in your shoes, I would feel the same way.”

3. The third step is resolving the situation.  After saying you don’t blame the patient for being upset, you need to solve the issue right then and there.  This is where the doctor empowers you to fix the problem without asking him.  You get the patient more upset when you have to stop what you are doing and ask the office manager or the doctor how to solve the patient’s problem.  This is because he is now waiting even longer and really wants the problem fixed immediately.

So, at this step, you would say, “Let’s fix this problem right now.  I can see if the doctor can see you right this minute or I can reschedule you and make the visit free of charge to you. How does that sound?”  “In addition, I will make sure that this does not happen again to you.” The three step approach to handling a complaint is to one, repeat back the complaint; two, show the patient that you agree with his situation, and third, solve it immediately.  I would also, maybe give the patient a gift card to Dunkin’ Donuts or some other establishment. 

Remember, almost everything can be handled.  It is your attitude that will affect your altitude.

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