Dealing with angry patients at one point or another is a given for most healthcare providers. In fact, according to one study, upwards of fifteen percent of patient encounters are considered difficult. For that reason, it’s incredibly important that a staff protocol be in place to manage patients.

6 recommendations for dealing with angry patients

In a perfect world, patients would never be unhappy with the care they received. As much as we all wish that was the case, there will always be dissatisfied patients. Here are some of our suggestions to help all office staff when dealing with angry patients.

Stay calm

When patients lash out, it can be difficult to keep your cool. But this is one of the most important recommendations to keep in mind. It is essential to resist the urge to become defensive when being confronted by a patient.

Instead of raising your voice or speaking over the patient, allow them to finish what they have to say. Once they have aired their grievances, respond to them in a calm, soft tone of voice. This is naturally disarming and will make the patient feel heard.

Remain empathetic, compassionate

Putting yourself in the patient’s situation will allow you to understand where your patient’s frustration is coming from. It will also help you determine the response best suited to address the issue when dealing with angry patients.

Engaging in empathy is a conscious decision, meaning it does take effort. But, empathy also allows you to fully listen to the objections your patients may have, and manage them appropriately. Oftentimes, the root causes of anger in patients are anxiety, stress, or pain.

Oftentimes, the root causes of anger in patients are anxiety, stress, or pain.

Acknowledging feelings and being compassionate to patient stressors, predicaments, or grievances will give patients the space they need to express their feelings in a productive way. And having this information may help with creating a treatment plan moving forward. Validating patient experiences is a great step toward building a trusting, positive relationship.

Keep in mind body language

Body language goes a long way when dealing with angry patients. How you carry yourself, especially in difficult situations, is just as important as what you say.

Generally, you will want to avoid crossing your arms or standing with your hands on your hips. These are traditionally considered defensive postures, and may make patients feel like you are not listening to them objectively.

Prove that you are listening

We all just want to be heard, and difficult patients are no different. Aside from actively listening to their complaints, you can show an angry patient that you are listening in a couple of ways. A good place to start is to summarize, or rephrase, what the patient is conveying to you. If you have any clarifying questions, be sure to ask those as well. While doing this, remember to maintain a gentle and understanding tone.

This paraphrasing technique removes any question of whether you’re listening to a patient. It also helps to encourage a patient to divulge further information, which may be helpful when creating a treatment plan moving forward.

It is naturally calming to be met with understanding and genuine concern when you are angry. Although it may not be possible to resolve the issue on the spot, being an engaged listener will go a long way to improving patient satisfaction.

Identify the root cause of the problem

If you are able to identify the real reason a patient is upset, you are far more likely to be able to have a positive outcome. For example, medical errors, poor bedside manner, appointment delays, and a lack of responsiveness are a couple of common causes for patient anger.

When boiled down, these causes are all related to failures in communication. Poor communication is the main cause of unsatisfactory patient outcomes. If we are able to identify substandard communication as a major cause of patient frustration, we are then able to find a way to improve the communication experience.

Ending on a positive note is a great method for dealing with angry patients

Although not always possible, the goal should always be to end a patient conversation on a positive note. This may mean apologizing for mistakes, looking for a solution together, or asking the patient what they need from you. Summarizing next steps and what the patient can expect from you is also a helpful way to manage patient expectations for future visits.

The best part about all of these solutions is that they aren’t reliant on face-to-face interactions. Empathy, compassion, and genuine care can also be conveyed through a screen. In fact, body language can still be incredibly impactful during a video visit. As a healthcare provider, you are able to manage an unhappy patient just as effectively over the phone, via text, or during a telehealth appointment as you are in person.

There are going to be unhappy patients. What’s more important is how you manage their care. Dealing with difficult patients can be stressful, but keeping these recommendations in mind will help determine a protocol to work off of.

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