How to Deal with Grouchy Patients

August 18, 2010

Sometimes in the quest to get the job done, physicians can fail to see the visit from the patient’s point of view.

Not every patient is all smiles when they arrive in your office. Probably most patients who visit your practice are pleasant enough, despite feeling unwell, but every once in awhile you are bound to deal with a patient who is just plain grouchy. It’s not fun and you aren’t likely to jump for joy, but there are certainly ways you can ease an unpleasant situation and make the most of the patient encounter.

Slow down

First of all, it’s important to stop thinking about the things you need to accomplish during the patient visit - the technical part of your job - and think about what you can do for the patient.

Too often a physician and her staff can get caught up in the daily business of running a medical practice. Just in the patient encounter alone there’s registering the patient, rooming the patient, taking a history, providing care, giving instructions, and making the follow-up appointment. Sometimes in the quest to get the job done, you can fail to see the visit from the patient’s point of view - to really understand what’s on his mind.

Time, fear, and money

Patients’ concerns are real: at the top of their list of worries are fear, time, and money. Patients are afraid of the unknown and sometimes imagine the symptoms that bring them to your office are far more serious than they really are. They wonder if you will order diagnostic studies or send them to another physician - both taking precious time and money. Young people wonder if the treatment will hurt and if they will miss school or work, and senior patients wonder which family member they will depend on to help them take care of their future medical needs. Each one of these patients is feeling vulnerable in one way or another.

Most of all, there are a lot of unknowns when a patient comes to your office and this inevitably leads to frustrations. So if your office staff seems indifferent or preoccupied, it’s understandable that an occasional patient might get grouchy. However, ignoring a grouchy attitude can cause problems: if the patient feels ignored it can compound her irritation. So be more proactive and save yourself and the patient a lot of frustration.

Simple kindness

Kindness and acknowledgment will serve you far better than indifference or avoidance. Acknowledge your patient and ask what is bothering him, and if there is something you can do to help. If he is upset about something within the office be a good listener and don’t interrupt. If he is ill at ease and snaps at you, try comforting words to ease the situation. That’s not to say you should stand for abusive behavior, but give your patients the benefit of the doubt. Often times, they will come around with a little sympathy.

You have the tools to befriend your grouchy patient and turn a potentially bad situation into a better patient encounter. Patients just want to be heard. They look to you for reassurance, and want to know that you care about them as people. You can do this by creating a practice culture that respects patients and is sensitive to their needs and concerns. Put yourself in their shoes, recognize what might be on their minds, and treat them with the compassion that brought you to service in the healthcare industry in the first place. It’s a patient-centered business.

Judy Capko is a healthcare consultant and author of the popular books “Secrets of the Best Run Practices” and “Take Back Time.” Based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., she is a national speaker on healthcare topics. She can be reached at judy@capko.com or
805 499 9203.