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Handling Difficult Patients in Your Clinic

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The patient may be very irritable, upset by a long wait, loudly voicing their disdain in your waiting area. Or perhaps they refuse to follow treatment directions. They may even write a poor review, hurting your ability to attract new patients. These difficult patients make your job more difficult. In fact, one study found that doctors make more diagnostic errors with difficult patients, compared to calmer, more neutral patients.

It’s important you recognise how to effectively handle “difficult” patients, in order to increase satisfaction and patient retention.

Your intuition, communication, and quick thinking skills will help you through these difficult encounters. This involves gathering information to find the source of the problem. Then you must deal with the patient’s emotions — and change their behavior. 

Because problematic patients are complex, one solution may work with one patient — but could make another patient angrier. So you need to tailor your response based on certain cues.

Is your patient angry?

This is the most common occurrence, and occurs for various reasons. The anger may have nothing to do with their clinic experience at all. However, the angry patient may be rude or disrespectful with the office staff or with the healthcare provider.

Your first reaction may feel upset or become defensive with this angry behavior. However, an angry patient won’t react well to that. They don’t want to be told their behavior is inappropriate — or that they are wrong. Actually, they just want to be heard.

First step, take a breath and collect yourself. When you feel level-headed, acknowledge the patient’s statements — their grievances. You don’t have to admit fault, but you must apologise. 

Ask how the patient would like the matter to be resolved.

Is your patient frequently late -- or a no-show?

While late patients don’t disrupt your waiting room, they do disrupt your schedule. When this happens, your next scheduled patient may get a little less of your time. In the worst situations, your entire day could be set back — so you’re running late (and irritating) every subsequent patient that day. They arrived on time, but are “punished” by another’s tardiness.

No-show patients are an even worse scenario. You can instill financial penalties, but this doesn’t win favors among the rest of your patients. When a patient is late or misses an appointment for a legitimate reason, they will be upset anyway — and if they face a penalty, you stand to lose that patient. 

There’s a better way to deal with late and no-show patients — email and text reminders. This helps them keep their appointments top-of-mind. In your messaging, suggest they allow extra time for traffic. 

If a patient does miss an appointment, a text reminder is a great way to avoid losing that patient entirely. Also, online scheduling (and rescheduling) is perfect for patients’ convenience. They can manage their appointments on their own time, being proactive in rebooking.

Is Your Patient Anxious?

Many people feel anxious about healthcare appointments, generally out of worry about a condition or a possible treatment. They may fidget and avoid eye contact, or may weap in your waiting room.

When a patient is anxious, they can’t always express their health concerns — or fully absorb important information you need to give them. Offering telehealth as an option may make these patients more comfortable about discussing their concerns. 

When a patient is anxious, first assure them they can trust you. Remind them that you are a specialist because you are dedicated to helping people like them. Tell them you’re a good listener, and want to know more about what’s bothering them. Offer feelings of empathy, when appropriate: “I know this is tough, but it’s important to remain hopeful.”

Always — let this anxious patient know they can contact you, to discuss concerns and ask questions. Let them know exactly how to contact you.

Always keep in mind, every patient is unique. In every appointment, your manner will have a big impact on their overall experience. Take care to listen carefully to the patient’s concerns and frustrations. Stay calm and adjust your reaction to the situation, always with an understanding, helpful attitude. These patient management skills will reward you with higher patient retention.

Loran Simon

Loran Simon

Loran Simon is the Founder of Somnowell, one of the UK’s leading oral appliances to help to cure snoring and sleep apnea. Over the past 10 years, Somnowell’s growth has been mainly achieved using the digital marketing services of Somnowell Marketing, an agency that Loran Simon also founded and manages. The agency consistently generates thousands of new patient enquiries for Somnowell’s network of dentists.


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