When it comes to dealing with difficult patients, you’re not alone. Every practice has them. You fear seeing their names on your schedule. Your staff puts off returning their calls. Clearly, something needs to be done to improve relationships with these patients, but what?
Difficult patients are dependent and clingy at best but they may also be manipulative, self-destructive, noncompliant, arguable, and even hostile. They all, however, demand excessive amounts of time and attention from you and your staff. And despite your efforts, you frequently find yourself frustrated and exhausted after interactions with them and sense that they have similar feelings.
Sharpen your communication skills
Before you take the easy way out and blame the patient for the damaged relationship, take a good look in the mirror. Are you doing everything you can to understand and address the patient’s underlying needs or expectations? In other words, are you effectively communicating with this patient?
When you are working with a challenging patient, ask yourself, “Would my family member, who has no medical background or experience, be satisfied with this interaction?” If the answer is “no” or “maybe,” you may need to think about how to improve your communication skills. Maybe you need to slow down with the advice you are giving or listen more. If you can honestly reply “yes,” then the reason for your communication problem most likely lies elsewhere.
Often poor communication and difficult relationships are results of the time constraints many of us face. If you simple recognise that you need more time with certain patients, and scheduling your day accordingly, it can go a long way in addressing the problem. This tactic, however, will not help with the patient who is never content with the time you provide.
Standardised approaches can help lessen the emotions involved in dealing with difficult patients. Reasoned, consistent processes that provide clear boundaries from the start can not only avoid problems down the track, but also help calm situations before they get out of hand. So instead of arguing with a patient on the issue, you can simply refer to your written policy.
Dealing with the difficult patient can be a challenge, but it’s a challenge that healthcare practices can overcome. Improving communication skills, managing your time, and planning ahead are the key. In addition, formulating standard approaches and establishing office policies will help you handle difficult patients with compassion, fairness, and timeliness.