Imagine that you are interacting with a patient who is visibly upset.
After a bad experience with her MD, this particular patient has come to your clinic for help. She had explained to her MD that her toes would sometimes turn blue. She needed someone to acknowledge that this was indeed the case, and listen to her concerns. Ostensibly, her MD had dismissed it as a matter of chance, and had sent her away fuming.
Frustrated that her doctor had not taken her seriously, she is now in your office.
When you find yourself in this position—dealing with an angry and frustrated patient—will you respond with your own frustration, or will you seize the opportunity to turn this patient into a raving fan?
Whether you realize it or not, an angry patient represents a huge opportunity. They’re upset, and they’re looking for help, and luckily they’re in your office. If you can turn this experience around for them, they won’t forget it.
So when you’re sitting across from a patient who is upset or dissatisfied, don’t blow it. Don’t put up your defenses, argue, or question the patient’s intelligence. Remember why you became a chiropractor in the first place: You wanted to change your patients’ lives for the better, and really make a difference in their health and happiness. What better opportunity to fulfill that mission than now? While you’re at it, you can turn this angry patient into a lifelong customer who will recommend you to friends and family members for years to come.
The next time you need to diffuse a difficult situation, consider adopting the following strategies.
Find the true reason
When a patient is angry, they’re probably also nervous, anxious, or even scared. Anger is an emotion that often surfaces when people are frightened and don’t know what to do.
Recognize this, and make an effort to understand the reasons behind your patient’s unease.
They may be afraid they are beyond help, afraid they’ve landed in a financially dire situation, or afraid their lifestyle is about to change dramatically. When you understand these factors, you’ll be better able to provide the appropriate support—and ensure that this patient sticks around for life.
Listen: This might seem like a no-brainer, but most people aren’t as good at listening as they think they are. Active listening is a skill that takes time and practice to develop.
To be successful, you can’t assume that you already know all the answers or plan what you want to say while your patient is still talking. Give them time to say what they need to say, and listen. Hand them a tissue if the moment requires it, or get them a drink of water if it looks like they need one. Be attentive to their body language. If anything a patient says is unclear, repeat what they’ve said to verify that you’ve understood correctly.
Don’t argue: If a patient wants to argue, don’t feed the fire. While you should be able to express your thoughts, it’s important to do so calmly and respectfully. Sometimes an apology is the best way to go, whether it’s warranted or not.
Empathize: By actively listening, you can learn why your patient feels the way they do. Once a patient has said what they need to say, let them know their emotions are valid and you understand their concerns. In this moment, don’t overemphasize your own beliefs. This disempowers the patient and will make them feel like you don’t “get it.” Whether or not you think the patient is right, demonstrating empathy can diffuse the situation and provide the support that your patient needs.
What are you communicating? Be aware of what your facial expressions and body language are communicating. Are you sitting or standing? (Standing may indicate that you are in a hurry to leave.) Is your voice slow or fast? Are you making eye contact? Don’t grimace, scowl, or communicate disbelief or disparagement.
Breathe normally and stay calm.
It’s nothing personal
Although it’s easy to feel as if your character, your knowledge, or your capabilities are under attack, remember that you are not the true cause of the patient’s frustration. They might be taking it out on you, but that doesn’t mean you are necessarily the root of the problem. Try to remember this as you take a few deep breaths and shake it off.
Know where the line is
If a patient is yelling, swearing, or threatening you, the opportunity for civil dialogue has passed. At this point, it may be appropriate to ask the patient to leave the office and come back another time.
Alternatively, you can tell them that you’re going to leave the room for a few minutes to give them time to calm down before continuing the conversation again. Be clear about your expectation of civility and mutual respect.
Develop a routine
Prepare emotionally and psychologically for the day ahead. You never know when you’re going to find yourself in a tense situation, so a little preparedness can go a long way.
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, managing stress appropriately, and checking in with yourself regularly about your mental and physical status. Are you feeling on the edge or are you balanced and stable?
Make the following into habitual practices:
- If the patient needs help you are unable to give, recommend someone. Don’t turn them away without a solution. If you recommend another doctor, let the patient know that you will check on them later to make sure it’s working out.
- Ensure that your clinic is a welcoming and comfortable place. If the environment is noisy, chaotic, disorganized, or doesn’t offer privacy, those factors can exacerbate a patient’s frustration.
- Build your interpersonal relation- ship with each patient by using their name often. Studies show that this helps increase a patient’s level of satisfaction with your care.
Be the one
No matter what attitude a patient brings into your office, they always deserve high-quality healthcare. Don’t let yourself get so busy you can’t make time to listen and make a difference in your patients’ lives. At the very least, your staff members should be trained and ready to step in if a situation requires it.
When you think about it, a frustrated, anxious, scared, or angry patient is a golden opportunity. You have a chance to be the one who listens, who cares, and who provides the right support at the right moment.
You have a chance to turn conflict into compassionate care. Don’t blow it by being unprepared. In general, people are forgiving when each party communicates clearly and effectively.
If you make a genuine effort to show that you care, your patients will return again and again, and you’ll know that you’ve done your best to deliver exceptional healthcare.
Nancy Singleton is a 1989 graduate of the Los Angeles College of Chiropractic Assistants. She has been consulting and helping doctors grow their practices for more than 25 years. She and her husband, Todd Singleton, DC, teach chiropractors how to implement multiple cash systems into their existing practices. She can be contacted at 801-707- 697, firstname.lastname@example.org, or through nancysingletonsarticles.com.