Dealing with Difficult / Angry / Aggresive Patients.

Difficult patients can often come in a wide variety. For some patients that         are being unhappy can  be:

  • Picky people                                                              
  • Know it all
  • Constant complainers
  • They will not listen to reason.

We have all come across someone who fits the above – and will continue to do so – but it is how we handle them that is the most important thing and even more important how we learn from it too.

But perhaps the most difficult for everyone is the angry patient. This is someone who feels that he or she has been wronged, and is upset and emotional about it.

These patients will often complain, they are angry – usually about something that you or the surgery did (or did not do!).

What are the answers to handling difficult patients? There is not right and wrong way. Each patient / situation is different and will be dealt with in various ways by staff. It is how you handle the complaint that could make all the difference.

Dealing with difficult patients may not only benefit you (honestly) it will benefit the surgery as well; Being confident  at handling difficult patients is an asset to the practice and a credit to you if done well.  It will help with your confidence when dealing with the next difficult patient.


  • Aggressive behaviour is competitive with an aim to win. Therefore someone usually has to lose.
  • This is usually achieved by putting others down or over-riding others feelings, wishes, or rights.
  • The aggressive person cannot see another person’s point of view.
  • Often the aggressive character responds with an outright attack. The aggressive person can resort to verbal or even physical abuse.
  • All this will leave behind a trial of hurt, anger or humiliated feeling.

Words and phrases often connected with aggression

  • Loud
  • Forceful
  • Out to “win”
  • Puts others down
  • Attacks when threatened
  • Verbal and physical
  • Arrogant
  • Unreasonable
  • Threatening
  • Overbearing
  • Inconsiderate
  • Abusive

Aggressive people make others feel

  • Defensive
  • Humiliated
  • Resentful
  • Revengeful
  • Aggressive
  • Upset
  • Afraid
  • Withdrawn
  • Hurt
  • Passive
  • Insecure

Dealing with difficult and aggressive patients will happen – but I am happy to say not as often as you probably think it will.

Be prepared to deal with each situation – if you feel you are not handling the situation very well or feel threatened ask someone else to step in and help.

But most important learn from each experience and take it forward in helping the next difficult situation.


If a patient is angry, never get angry back. It will only turn an unpleasant incident into something bigger. This then could turn to an official complaint.

Do not try logical argument on a patient in a temper. It will only add fuel to the fire.

Do not grovel, and do not let angry patients draw you into accepting their assumption that the practice is generally inefficient because of their single unhappy experience.

The way to deal with an angry customer is to apologise for the specific inconvenience only, and to take immediate action to put it right.

An angry patient in front of you means that you still have an opportunity to put it right. If the patient storms out of the surgery (or slams down the phone) make a note of it, if they made a complaint later on you may need to have evidence of this. (see blog The Incident Report Form  )

If you can sort out the problem contact the patient and let them know that you have sorted it out. You often will find by this time they have completely calmed down.


Try not to get personally upset by the rudeness of an offensive patient. And do not fuel their abuse by making “value judgments” just stick to the facts.

Do not be deliberately causal or icily superior to show an offensive patient what you think of them.

The way to deal with the offensive patient is to keep cool, keep your professional detachment, stay polite and keep offering possible solutions in strictly factual terms.

Learn to ignore rudeness. Remember that the offensive patient is offensive to anyone that would have dealt with them. Your job is not to make them “nice” you simply have to supply them with what they came in for.

the point is that you do not have to make an angry person into  person – that is  impossible. All you have to do is get them to go away with whatever it was they came in to get – within reason.


Sometimes you do everything right, and that is still not enough for some people. You have put the right techniques into action, but the patient still remains difficult. In this instance you should bear in mind that:

  • Difficult patients are usually difficult for a reason.
  • Patients that are feeling, ill, scared or anxious are more likely to be difficult – and may remain difficult until their problem is resolved. This can often be a relative or carer of a patient.

Anxious patients can become childlike and have “tantrums”. Treating them like a child will encourage them to act like a child, whilst treating them like a responsible adult will encourage them to act rationally.

An example could be:

I understand your problem and I assure you I am trying everything to help you. Please take a seat and I will let you know as soon as I have any information”

This will be much more calming and effective than saying:

“I am doing all I can here. You will have to take a seat and wait your turn”

If people remain angry, it is often because they think that they are not being listened to.


  • Make an effort to look as if you are interested. Put your listening skills into action.
  • Particularly difficult patients may be “playing” to others around them. Perhaps take them into another room where they do not have the audience to “play” to.
  • You will gain the sympathy of other patients when dealing with a difficult patient.
  • Often other patients will try to help by arguing with or commenting on the behaviour of the difficult patient.
  • Whilst this might feel like a welcome help, remember that it is easy for the difficult person to feel even more threatened and aggressive.
  • If you have a very aggressive patient make sure that you have a barrier between you such as a desk.

If you feel that you are out of your depth ask the patient to take a seat and call on a senior member of staff.

Complete an incident form on any such occasion.

And remember if you carry out the above – more often than not the patient will calm down and apologise for the actions.

People who are unhappy with your service will tell ELEVEN other people and people that are happy will only tell FOUR. So make sure your patients leave happy!