Seven ways to make difficult patients disappear
You love your patients. But you also know that dealing with patients isn’t always easy.
In fact, some of them lie, some don’t show up, and some blame you for their symptoms even though they haven’t followed your directions. All of this and more can cause enough stress to make you want to show them the door.
What if, instead, you could make difficult patients disappear—without going to jail or experiencing the backlash most fear when terminating a problem patient? When working in a fast-paced environment with clients who are in pain, conflict and stress can occur. But it doesn’t have to be the norm if you are willing to make one decision, one that keeps these kinds of problems to a minimum.
When you run a practice, it doesn’t take much for one difficult patient to find all your buttons and push them hard. The same is true for your team who, in fact, take the brunt of a mean patient’s ire. But when you choose to minimize the impact of difficult people, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that at some point the behavior—and occasionally the people sharing it— disappears. The following seven strategies will help make that happen.
Perceptions are your point of view and, when you form them, you tend to agree with your own data. The key question is whether your perceptions are accurate and a true gauge of what other people are thinking and doing.
Are you interpreting others’ behaviors correctly? Did they mean to rattle your nerves on purpose or were they just acting naturally, as you do? Perceptions are powerful and, once made, they encourage you to label.
The challenge is that most labels, like difficult patients, are assigned on the basis of how you perceive actions and outcomes. If you change your perceptions, you’ll likely change the way you view behaviors.
Some of your stress can come from a failure to set boundaries. How many times a day do you hear “Gotta sec?” How often do you say yes?
In an environment where doctors float around the office floor and are seen as more effective if they have an open door, time for you can be slim and create reactions you might regret. Moreover, these reactions, and the tension you feel in keeping them at bay, rubs off on those team members and patients who enter the practice on that particular day. Much as admitting it is tough, behavior from the leader can often provoke the kind of behavior one would call difficult. To prevent infecting all in your path, effectively block out time and politely let others know when you are available. Let people know your preferred form of communication. Do you respond to emails or texts faster than a voicemail? Do people know you’re always accessible, even if it’s adding to your stress? Difficult people and patients may balk if you’re not at their beck and call, but they’ll adjust and disappear if you consistently set appropriate boundaries.
Assess before you arrest
Driven leaders with an entrepreneurial bent, like those who become doctors and open their own practices, can also have a tendency to judge quickly. But that’s like making an arrest before determining guilt. As a result, labeling people with terms like “difficult,” “challenging,” or “a pain in the neck” can occur quickly.
Leaders learn to recognize what lies below the emotional surface and address the real issue at hand.
Act like the jury instead of the judge, and assess before you arrest. Ask questions before you make a mistake in how you view a person. For example, if patients don’t communicate the way you do, your conversations may be strained and tempt you to “convict” them of not listening.
Instead, assess what they need from you first, as you should do as a doctor, and don’t just look for the answer you expect. The danger is that once you give a person a negative assessment, it has a tendency to stick and soon you’ll begin looking for affirmation of the label you gave.
When people struggle for what they need to hear, feel, or experience, and aren’t getting what they need, it can create conflict. Your role in this goes beyond chart reading, adjustments, and diagnosis—it requires emotional intelligence. It doesn’t mean you become conflict averse, it means you need to understand their wants.
Learn to read between the lines and become adept at calming patients down. Most people will enter a conversation with good intentions, but sometimes may struggle with articulating what they really need. Leaders learn to recognize what lies below the emotional surface and address the real issue at hand.
Understand what they really need
The patient who screams at your front desk staff may appear demanding and rude when what they really want is someone to be responsive and show them they’re important. Those who keep quiet and seem aloof are likely disagreeing with what they think you’re doing.
With a modicum of awareness of the personalities of your patients and teams, you can truly accomplish amazing things in the area of communication and understanding. This is a key element in the art of making difficult people disappear.
See the big picture
Behavioral analysis is a big-picture idea, and in your practice it is worth doing. Does a particular patient’s behavior need to impact your whole day? Is it something that should get in the way of enjoying your family time or developing your team?
Sometimes, your focus can become so small that you drop the larger ball in your interactions. Avoid giving one person’s actions more significance than necessary, while not taking them too lightly. Big-picture thinking means looking at your business strategically and deciding what will get the results you seek.
Your patients have individual needs and lives of their own (that may not be going so well). If, in frustration, they take their stress out on you and your team, your job is to be the leader your people need. Teach them how to let some things go. Show them how to keep their eye on the goal and act in a professional demeanor that, no matter what is said, is always what is shown.
Keep the culture you create
This kind of leadership, teamwork, and unity creates a culture. How you lead determines how your team treats you and your patients. How you communicate determines how they will, too. You can make difficult people and patients disappear by observing these straightforward steps.
The challenge is to commit to putting these suggestions into practice on a daily basis. And your overall goal is to create the kind of culture and leadership described above. Cultivating this mindset will contribute to everyone’s overall good health.
Monica Wofford, CSP, is the CEO of Contagious Companies, an Orlando, Florida-based training and consulting firm and a consultant in the chiropractic industry. She works with chiropractic practices, healthcare, retail, hospitality, and government industry leaders to develop their leadership skills. She can be contacted about training, coaching, or consulting at 866-382- 0121 or through contagiouscompanies.com.