Is your patient outrageous? Here's what you can do

October 1, 2008

Here are a few strategies to help urologists and staff members reduce the potential for patients to become outrageous.

Regardless of how difficult a patient is, it's your responsibility to do your best to keep him happy and make sure his needs are met. Here are a few strategies that can help urologists and staff members reduce the potential for patients to become outrageous.

Patients don't start out outrageous; problems usually stem from a series of escalating circumstances that might be eliminated if you learn to read a patient better, ie, how he is communicating and whether he gives a clear signal of discontent. Watch the body language and listen to the tone of voice, and it is easy to identify when a patient is agitated or impatient. If this isn't dealt with early in the interaction, it's bound to escalate. This behavior is generally a sign of fear or frustration.

How you communicate makes a big difference. For example, consider questions like, "Mrs. Frightened, is there something on your mind?" or, "Is there something else I can do for you, Mrs. Frightened?" Just be sure you mean it by maintaining good eye contact, paying attention to the response, and seeking to make things better.

If Mr. Impossible starts making demands or complaining, take steps to work collaboratively with him. You might say, "Mr. Impossible, it seems we have a problem. How would you like me to resolve it?"

And when a solution is not possible, don't say "no," just reverse it a little. If he wants to be scheduled for the procedure at 8 am next Tuesday and that slot is filled, offer him alternative times.

When conflicts emerge at a staff level and the staff member feels powerless, she needs to know when it's time to bring in the manager or physician to intervene.

Keep in mind that a patient's discontent sometimes has nothing to do with his encounter in your office. He may be frustrated because he got lost on the way to the office or, worse yet, just found out he's getting laid off at the end of the month. By acknowledging that the patient seems to have something on his mind, you show interest and allow him to vent. Inevitably, he'll feel a lot better about it and be easier to get along with.

Own the problem

If the patient has a complaint about the office, don't go on the defensive, even if you don't agree with the patient. Remember, the patient's perceptions are reality to her. So if Mrs. Impatient says, "I've been waiting a half-hour" and you know it's only been 15 minutes, don't argue or disagree. Apologize, let her know how long you think the wait will be, and ask if there's anything you can do to make her more comfortable while she is waiting.

Sometimes a patient is venting with you about a problem she experienced elsewhere: a long wait at the lab or difficulty getting a copy of an ultrasound. Let her talk, show compassion, and be reassuring.