In my former life as a clinic-based family doctor and now as a hospitalist, I have encountered my fair share of angry patients.
In my former life as a clinic-based family doctor and now as a hospitalist, I have encountered my fair share of angry patients. While a resident, I used whatever method was recommended by the current attending physician. If Attending “A” favored “fight fire with fire,” then I lit my match. If Attending “B” wanted me to find out what abuses the patient suffered as a child that might contribute to his emotional pain, then I did a little bedside therapy.
After graduation, I decided to forgo the boxing gloves or pretending to be a therapist. Meeting anger with anger escalates the encounter, and I cannot instantly change a patient’s ability to handle stress. Instead, I now try to meet patients in the middle through negotiation, realizing that spending an extra 5 or 10 minutes with an angry patient may save the day’s schedule in the long run.
If I could write a primer on “handling angry patients,” it would go something like this:
In the end, some patients won’t be pacified. They may, indeed, need cognitive therapy to work through their issues, but unless you are a psychiatrist, that’s not for you to address in a 15-minute time slot. Staying calm and focusing on resolving the problem will serve both you and the patient best.
Afterward, I recommend you treat yourself to a little pampering - a mani-pedi, an hour at the driving range, or whatever “pampering” means to you. Why? Because you can count on another angry patient in a few days, weeks or months, waiting to tell you what-for. Be ready by keeping your emotional reserves fully charged.
Sarah Parrott, DO, is a hospitalist at Shawnee Mission Medical Center in Overland Park, Kan. She is board-certified in family medicine and is a volunteer assistant professor at The University of Kansas School of Medicine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.