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  • Withdrawn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!

24 thoughts on “Dealing with Difficult / Angry / Aggresive Patients.

  1. Hi

    I came across your blog by chance as I run a company called ‘Medical Role Players (UK) Ltd’. As well as providing professional actors for doctors’ training, assessment and recruitment across the country, we are increasingly being asked to provide training sessions for front line GP practice staff. I am currently preparing a training session around dealing with angry and difficult patients, for a team of GP receptionists in Lancashire.So I found your blog about ‘Dealing with Difficult, Angry, Aggressive Patients’ very helpful as it gives specific insight into the issues front line staff have to deal with in a GP surgery. Your strategies for dealing with those issues are really clear and helpful.

    I have read a few more of your postings and enjoyed reading them. Would it be Ok for me to pass your blog details onto GP practice staff that I work with in the future?Also, I would be more than happy to discuss how my company maybe of assistance to you or any of your colleagues.

  2. Thanks for your very useful information on dealing with angry patients. I worked as a nursing unit clerk for 23 years and now teach human relations skills in a college to unit clerks and medical office assistants, as well as run a communications blog/podcast. I often have health care people coming to the site. The next class I teach in January, I will be sure to recommend your blog! Lots of good info here…keep up the great work! Jenn Swanson

  3. Hai i am a first year pharmacy student at gulu university,faculty of medicine,department of pharmacy your blog was very useful when doing an assignment on management of angry patients in the hospitals.Thanks

    • Thank you for your comments and I am so pleased that my blog was of some help to you. Comments like this make it all worth while.

  4. Pingback: Dealing with Difficult / Angry / Aggresive Patients. | Beyond the Reception Desk

  5. Thank you for sharing this information. I work with insurance and billing and lately have had an upscale of very hateful and rude patient calls. The information helps in many ways, thank you.

  6. I found this article so helpful. Three paragraphs in particular stuck out to me and I know they will change my life. I took a picture of it to keep with me in my phone. I work a front desk at a specialty practice, often by myself, and find the in person fits and attacks, and over the phone assaults as well, dehumanizing. There are good people but I struggle with asserting myself as I am inherently ‘nice’ and it always shakes me up. Thank you for this wisdom.

    • I am pleased you found the article helpful,but sorry you are having to deal with such issues in the workplace. It might be worth speaking to someone about how you feel about dealing with these situations. Good luck

  7. I was very ⲣleased to fіnd this page. I need tо to thank youu for your time for this particularly wonderful reaⅾ!!
    I definitely savored every bit oof it annd i also have you bookmarkerd too look at new thingsѕ in your website.

  8. I have been a doctor’s receptionist for 12 years. My. first 7 years were most pleasurable and rewarding but the latter 5 have been pure hell. Not all but many patients believe it’s their divine right to insult receptionists if they don’t get their own way, they are openly rude and insulting, we even get patients barging into a doctor’s office even if he already has a patient with him. Too many rights are given to patients and not enough consideration given to staff. No matter how kind and understanding we try to be we still get insulted and threatened. It would also help if the practise manager took some responsibility when patients ask to see her. We, as receptionists are there to help and advice but patient culture and attitudes have changed for the worse.

    • Sorry your past few years have not been good ones, and sadly your story is told by many GP Receptionists lately. The job is very demanding and often the Receptionist is piggy in the middle having to juggle appointments, dealing with irate patients and whilst being understaffed and more than often for a wage bordering on the minimum wage. Its time that the Receptionist is seen for the hard work they do, and get paid for the extremely hard and stressful job that they do.

  9. I am very happy to have come across this site.
    After reading about difficult patients, is there any way that I can print out a certificate for me to show my manager that I have read the document. Thankyou Josie

    • I wouldn’t be able to offer you a certificate just for reading the blog, certificates are usually given when I have held a training session and gone over this subject in a lot more detail. Hope this answers your question.

  10. Hi, this page has been the most helpful so far, acknowledging that there are patients no matter what you do, it’s not enough. The thing is, while these people are taking your time, there are ten other patients building up, who also need to communicate. You can’t have a perfect receptionist, if you don’t have perfect patients! It can be very demanding on a person, if they only take a barrage of abuse and have to smile and listen sweetly for a 10 hour shift, unless you are a robot! You can not judge people by your own morals and standards. There are those that just come in and whatever facts you give them, will lie and demand now!!! Unfortunately the Doctor is too busy seeing other patients with problems, to drop everything to sign your prescription NOW!! Please can someone give some advise too handle a real shit person, as they do exist you know!!!

    • Hello Lesley, I agree with everything you say. After a long and tiring shift its very hard to deal with rude and demanding patients. I recently witnesses a Receptionist being made to cry because of the rudeness of a patient. In answer your your question on how to handle a real difficult patient I would advise that you turn to your Practice Manager or Reception Manager for guidelines. Many practices have different policies on dealing with this subject. I believe that there should be training for all Receptionists in how to deal with certain difficult situations in Reception. My advise to you is if you have a rude or difficult patients if you can try and make some notes about it – these might be useful in the event the patient might complain, or if the same patients continues to be difficult. It saddens me when I see Receptionists being spoken to in this way – the job is demanding enough to be wasting time on people that have no respect for the job you are trying to do.

  11. I am the patient and got no help regarding my medication I suffer with anxiety and stress along with depression. When my medication was written up wrongly the phamacy tried to put it right by calling the doctor who at that time had left . I was in a lot of pain and drove back to the surgery to get this sorted b 4 I got there I had called the reception staff who said I would have to wait for tomorrow. I was angry as the pain was awful. I said l would go to A& E but was told by the reception staff Well ur sit there for 4 hours so I hoped then I would get the meds that the doctor spoke to me on the phone about . The reception staff did not help at all when I arrived back at the surgery where I found them talking about me an laughting when I said y r u laughing about me and talking about me the receptionist grabbed the no tolerances board from the counter and thrusteeded in my face . By this time my stress levels went into overdrive and I was being bullied by this reception women so l left leaving without any help as she said I can have you removed. I was not angressive nor was I rude my voice was not shouting but a little frustrated tone . I am discussed with Heathcote Medical centre as there was no indication that I was aggressive I’m 64 a pensioner in a lot of pain no one could help and to top it all I had to pay for the medication that the doctor had prescribed but not in the apart form that was discussed as she wrongly put doe a liquid for when my problem was I could not swallow . Clearly I was a victim of a snooty receptionist who found it amusing to discuss my situation with other staff and laughing about it .

    • Sorry to hear that you feel you were so badly treated. If you want to take this incident any further I suggest that you speak to the Practice Manager and she/she will look into this for you.

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