Receptionists Dealing with Unhappy Patients/Customers

uiI am delighted to say that I have a lot of viewings on my blog on a daily basis. And I can see what searches that people are putting in that direct them to my site. It saddens me to see that a lot of searches are looking for solutions to deal with unhappy patients/customers. Some of the searches recently have included:

  • What to do in a difficult situation at Reception
  • Situation dealing with a difficult patient at Reception
  • Dealing with difficult patients
  • Receptionist’s bad attitude
  • Patients being rude to staff
  • Receptionists being rude to patients

And there are many more similar searches on a daily basis.

So from the searches it seems that there are patients that are sometimes unhappy with the service that they are getting from the Receptionist/Practice – but also receptionists searching on how to deal with unhappy/angry/aggressive/upset patients.

Rudeness or bad behaviour is no excuse but we know that it’s going to happen at some point when you are dealing with the general public – and more so when you are dealing with people who perhaps might have medical conditions that could heighten their concerns.

For the receptionist dealing with unhappy patients can be upsetting especially if they are made to feel that the complaint is directed at them personally. Often the patient might be right in their complaint and the receptionist might not be trained in dealing with the complaint in a satisfactory way which will only lead to more frustration on the patient’s part.

If you have an unhappy patient some tips on how to deal with it might just avoid the complaint going further, and for you the Receptionist being possibly left feeling that you were not in control of the situation and therefore not coming to a solution whereby the patient has left the surgery satisfied that their concerns have been dealt with.

Step 1.

Once you are aware the patient is unhappy prepare to deal with it. Remain calm, although it’s often hard when someone is being rude to you or perhaps shouting.

It is hard to maintain a good rage when you are faced with someone (the receptionist) remains polite, calm and reasonable. Don’t be “sickly-sweet” that often can come across as patronising – but be genuinely nice. By doing this it often will solve a bad situation very quickly.

Let the patient have their say – let them know that you are listening to what they are saying. Offer calming phrases like “I understand”, “That must be so frustrating” and “let me see what I can do to help you” These few short phrases can often solve a difficult situation at this point. The patient feels heard and understood.

Step 2

Be patient and empathetic – but, be firm. Know where to draw the line. If someone is being irate and perhaps aggressive and it’s clear that you are not getting anywhere with them you need to politely but firmly let them know this is unacceptable. If the person perhaps swears politely ask them not to swear (it’s amazing how many people do not realise they have even swore and will apologise for this) if they continue to swear you have every right to ask them again not to swear and if they still take no notice you should have the right to tell them if they do not conduct themselves in a more professional manner you will not be able to help them any further – if the patient is on the telephone you can tell them that if they continue to swear you will hang up.

Some people use anger as a way to get their own way simply by beating their opponents into submission. Make it clear that they will not achieve anything by doing this.

If you ever feel that you are not in control of the situation ask for assistance from another member of your team.

Step 3

DO NOT argue back. By holding your ground you are the better person, although you might feel angry at the way you are being spoken to. If you feel the situation is getting out of hand and you cannot deal with it any longer then walk away. Ask the patient to wait while you get someone from your team to help with their query. Do not be afraid to remove yourself from the situation if you feel that you are not in control. Dont let it get out of control.

If you are dealing with this on the telephone you could perhaps suggest that you will call them back and seek advice from another member of your team. If you feel that you are unable to deal with the return call ask someone else to phone the person back – but make sure you give them the details on what has gone on so far.

Give the caller an estimated time that you will call back – ie 10 minutes. Do not end the call with “someone will call you back”. And if you say someone will call back in 10 minutes make sure they do.

If you are at the front desk and feel that the situation is getting out of hand try to guide the person away from the desk. Perhaps ask them to one side of the Reception area. The last thing you want is for someone to cause a scene in front of other patients including young children. Even away from the telephones as the last thing you want is people hearing such on the end of a telephone.

Often a person making a complaint liked to have an audience – don’t let that happen.

Step 4

Try to respect the person making the complaint. This is easier said than done when someone is in front of you or on the telephone throwing a temper tantrum. But by talking down to someone or arguing back to someone who is already upset will only upset them more and make the situation even worse.

Step 5

Try to remember that people act in various different ways when they are upset, worried or in pain. It is not an excuse by any means but it does happen. Try to put yourself in the person’s shoes – if it were happening to you how would you like the situation to be dealt with? Deal with the situation to the best of your ability, apologise to the person that they are upset, and often when the problem has been solved they will more often than not apologise for their outburst.

And of course sometimes the patients are right in their concerns or complaint, not their outburst but they might have a complaint that is justified. This does have to be dealt with regardless to their outburst.

My advice if you deal with such an incident that you make some record of it once the patient has walked away or ended the call. This is to safeguard yourself that you have done everything in your power to solve the situation. I suggest that you put this in writing if in the event the complaint goes any further. Always cover yourself as a Receptionist wherever possible.

I suggest the following The Incident Report Form

Treat people as you would like to be treated and you cannot go far wrong.


2 thoughts on “Receptionists Dealing with Unhappy Patients/Customers

  1. I can’t understand your last comment!! it’s a real shame that on the frontline no one is willing to support you and you just have to take constant abuse, usually from druggies. Yes a murderer really treats people the way they want to be treated don’t they.

    • I agree Lesley that sometimes you dont feel you are getting the support you should be entitled to. Often the abuse is quick and not witnessed by anyone else and the Receptionist can feel quite violated if the abuse gets personal. As a manager I encouraged the Receptionists to complete an incident reporting form, which would be logged. I would then bring these to the attention of the Staff Partner and if appropriate the Partner would write to that patient saying that the Practice would not tolerate that kind of behaviour. On one occasion a patient was asked to leave the practice because of the way they were always treating the staff. By having the forms you have the proof and it is logged, and sadly maybe more than one form. This procedure was really welcomed in Reception as they felt that they were being supported and listened to. I am pleased to say that there were not that many forms that were completed.

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