July 30, 2015
3 min read

BLOG: 3 ways to make treating 'problem patients' easier

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We’ve all dealt with them in the past. Rude, always late, complaining about a variety of imagined maladies, completely inattentive or all of the above, “problem patients” can be the worst part of your day and a sticking point that truly makes you question your desire to continue to practice.

Here are a few things I’ve learned in my practice that may help you.

3. Understand where they are coming from

If your problem patient happens to be one of those that is absolutely convinced they’re going blind – or else is absolutely terrified of being in the doctor’s office with you – it’s important to understand where they are coming from. According to WebMD.com, as many as 20% of people suffer from “white coat syndrome,” while 4% to 7% of patients suffer from hyperchondriasis (the belief that all symptoms are signs of a more serious illness). Both of these are serious issues that, while frustrating for doctors, are even worse for the patient who suffers from it.

Now, while you shouldn’t cater to their issues, per se, you should understand and do your best not to lose your cool while dealing with your patient. Put on an air of professionalism and tell them precisely what they are actually suffering from (if they happen to be a hypochondriac) or be as friendly and down-to-earth as possible if they seem nervous or scared. These are two separate issues that require very different approaches.

However, even if you can’t completely cure them of their hyperchondriasis/white coat syndrome, you can at least make that specific doctor’s appointment a little easier for them.

2. Kill them with kindness

For as long as there have been doctors – or even a service industry, for that matter – people have had to deal with those unfortunate patients who either are having a bad day or simply are too mean for their own good. Regardless of the reason, dealing with these angry, self-absorbed patients can be the lowest point of your day, especially if you’ve done nothing wrong to incur their wrath in the first place.

 As a doctor, it may be tempting to put these patients in their place by showing them who’s in charge; however, depending on the circumstance, I like to take a different approach.

Taking a page from the customer service industry, I do my best to put on a happy face and answer all insults, slights or otherwise with nothing more than a smile and a nod. While that may seem counterintuitive — and in many cases, ineffective — keeping the moral high ground and just being nice can easily defuse a situation and put your patient in his/her place (or so to speak).

This doesn’t work all the time, but at the very least it can keep you from getting a bad review online and possibly salvage the chance at having a productive and non-stressful appointment.

1. Don’t back down

Of course, there is always going to be the patient or two who simply won’t be smiled down from the ledge. No, they weren’t made the center of attention the moment they walked through the door, so that must mean you’ve disrespected them as a person!

When you encounter a patient who simply won’t calm down, is constantly rude or is otherwise causing a disturbance in your practice, it’s time to don that white coat and hold your ground. If you establish rule in your office and make absolutely clear that you won’t accept their behavior, you may be able to salvage the situation. But if all else fails, and they are truly causing issues in your practice, then it may be time to ask them to leave.

At the end of the day, no one wants to deal with a problem patient, but it’s going to happen at some point or another. Fortunately, if you use these tips, you may be able to make things run just a little bit smoother. Email me today if you have any other questions.