I would like to thank Practice Index for letting me share their post on ‘Handling Difficult Patients’. Practice Index is a support site for GP practice managers and surgery staff. Their popular online discussion forum allows you to ask questions and gain advice and guidance on any surgery issues from the community of NHS professionals. They also have a resources library within the forum which contains hundreds of policies and protocols that you can use in your own practice. You can join the Practice Managers’ forum for free by clicking here: http://practiceindex.co.uk/gp/forum/register
April 28, 2015 by Practice Index in Patients
Handling Difficult Patients
Dealing with difficult patients at the reception desk and in the waiting room is, like it or not, part and parcel of your job as a Practice Manager. It’s your responsibility to demonstrate confident and compassionate handling of difficult patients, displaying techniques your team – especially newer recruits – can learn and gain self-assurance from.
Aggressive patients are particularly likely to try and bully you into an argument, but your role here is to stay calm and unemotional. An emotional response from you – irritation, laughter or anger – will only fuel their attack and potentially cause a situation to escalate. In nursing as much as in the general practice, sensible steps to take would include the following:
– Speak softly and abstain from being judgemental
– Put a little more physical distance between yourself and the patient and avoid intense eye contact which could be seen as provocative
– Be in control of the situation without seeming either demanding or overly authoritative
– Show your intention to rectify the situation rather than reprimanding the patient for their behaviour
An angry patient won’t respond to logical arguments, so try to resist the temptation to reason with someone who is clearly in a terrible temper. It’s also important in situations like these to not resort to all-out grovelling if the practice is not at fault. Accepting responsibility is irreversible and could do the practice damage, as well as your own reputation. What you can do, however, is apologise for the particular inconvenience your patient is aggrieved by at this moment – and offer what immediate action you can (if any) to rectify the situation. Make a note of all complaints received, formal or informal – this includes patients storming out of hanging up on phone calls.
Rise Above It
Patients can be rude and downright insulting on a bad day, but try to refrain from letting them know what you think of them or how they’ve made you feel. Stay professionally detached and see this objectivity as your ‘protection zone’ from hurt. Ignore their rudeness and you may find that, with no visible impact, their insults start to die down. Equally, treating an angry adult like the adult they are – despite the toddlerish tantrum they’re throwing – should encourage them to gently return to adult form if you’re consistent enough with it. Patronising, belittling treatment will only inflame that childish rage.
We’ve all come up against it in our time and this just scratches the surface in coping tools for difficult patients. Why not share your best advice for diffusing tempers and managing quarrelsome individuals in the waiting room?