When patients are rude, loud, or disruptive, your entire practice suffers. There are proven ways to deal with difficult patients. All require patience and practice on your part. The more skilled you become at defusing disruptions, the happier and more prosperous you will be.
Recognize the Early Warning Signs
Tightened jaws, furrowed brows, and clenched fists can signal a difficult patient before they say a word. Take a moment to prepare. Consider your own body language. Eye contact is good; glaring is not. Don’t cross your arms, scowl, or raise your eyebrows. Maintain a respectful physical distance.
Remain Calm and Keep Talking
Maintaining control of a difficult situation requires calmness and empathy. Remember that the patient is attacking the situation, not you. Speak softly even if the patient is yelling. Don’t get pulled into an argument. You are the caregiver. You have the answers and information they need to hear.
Use Reflective Statements
The first rule of confrontation is “Don’t escalate.” It may be tempting to blame a patient for creating a disturbance. They may have missed an appointment or ignored your advice. But pointing that out won’t help. Move the conversation forward with reflective statements: “I understand your situation. Thank you for sharing your feelings. You are right. Let’s find a solution.”
Some patients may become more disruptive over time. Their demands of your practice may multiply or become unreasonable. Be clear about how your office handles scheduling, exams, and payment. Bend but do not break your rules.
Don’t Allow Yourself to Be Manipulated
Manipulative patients may feel they have to act out to get proper care. They may attempt to cajole you by yelling or crying. They may threaten lawsuits or even physical harm. If you are not able to talk your way through a difficult situation, you may not be able to treat the patient. If that is the case, and they refuse to leave, call the police.
Uncover Their True Feelings
Hearing loss can cause anxiety and depression. There is no quick fix. Treatment and devices can be very costly. Offering a financing option can help to defray those concerns. Hearing care practitioners who partner with CareCredit are able to offer services to patients on any budget. CareCredit offers free marketing materials you can display throughout your offices. Addressing financial concerns before they arise can help reduce the dreaded “sticker shock.”
Look at Your Practice From the Patient’s Perspective
Patients who have not been treated well have a right to be upset. Be sure your staff is setting reasonable expectations for wait times. Do not overload your schedule. Do not allow returning patients to walk in and see you without an appointment. Maintain clean, uncluttered, welcoming offices. Be sure private conversations really are private.
Hearing care is a stressful occupation. Audiologists who own their own practices have business as well as patient concerns. It can be overwhelming. If it feels like you are getting an inordinate share of difficult patients, address your own stress levels. Take a deep breath after handling a disruption. Practice yoga or meditation. Maintain a healthy resting heart rate. Commiserate with colleagues. If you decide to seek professional help, look for a therapist who specializes in treating medical professionals.
Difficult patients are endemic to audiology. Remember that they need your help. Have faith in your expertise and your ability to remain calm, cool, and collected. Your confidence will improve and your practice — and all your patients — will benefit.