Difficult patients have one thing in common: they are unhappy with some aspect of the service they’ve received at your facility. Whether a complaint is justified or it feels like the patient is being completely unreasonable, your responsibility is to address the complaint diplomatically and ensure it will not negatively affect the patient’s satisfaction.
It can be challenging to be the picture of tact and diplomacy when a patient is berating you or your co-workers because they feel they did not receive medication the minute they wanted it, or they are upset about the quality of the food. Regardless of whether it seems like a trivial concern to you, the concern must be addressed. With the introduction of HCAHPS surveys, it is more important than ever to keep patient satisfaction levels high.
Here are some tips to help you handle difficult patients without losing your cool.
1. Listen to the complaint and identify the problem.
The angrier people become, the more likely they are to list every problem they’ve ever had with your facility. Your job is to find out why they’re angry today, which isn’t always easy. Buried among complaints about the lack of green Jell-O and the billing fiasco of 2002 may be the patient’s concern that she isn’t receiving enough information about her condition and treatment plan. A few pointed questions about her current stay can help you find an underlying reason for the anger.
2. Don’t lose control.
It’s only natural to want to react in kind when someone yells at you, but this will only escalate the situation. When patients are in pain, afraid or scared, they may lash out at the first person they encounter. Remember that although the patient is directing his or her anger at you, in most cases, it’s not a personal attack.
3. Remind the patient you expect to be treated with respect.
If he or she resorts to name calling or other inappropriate behavior, gently explain that you are treating the patient with respect and deserve the same in return. You may need to step away from the situation and allow time for the patient to calm down. Ask for backup from a co-worker if you feel you need help handling the situation.
4. Empathize with the patient.
There’s nothing worse than taking the time to explain why you’re upset only to have it be met with cold indifference. A simple, “I can understand why you’re upset” may help defuse the situation. So can a direct apology for the patient’s issue, even though you may have no control over the events that contributed to the situation.
Obviously, if a medical or treatment error has been made, check with your facility’s risk management or legal team before speaking to a patient.
5. Find a solution.
For example, if the patient is upset because a radiology tech addressed her by her first name, apologize and let her know you will remind staff members that she prefers to be addressed as Mrs. Smith. Ask her to give you ongoing feedback to ensure the problem has been adequately addressed. If you are unable to resolve the problem yourself, tell the patient you will alert appropriate staff members. Follow up with the patient and report the steps to resolution you have taken. In some cases, the problem can be taken care of simply by listening to the patient’s perceptions of the situation and reassuring them.
The same tips can be applied to difficult family members. Worried relatives or significant others often feel powerless and may react inappropriately when they have questions or concerns about a loved one’s care. Listen to their concerns, empathize with them, answer their questions and direct them to the appropriate departments for help if you are unable to successfully resolve the complaint on your own.
Whether you’re dealing with a patient or family member, it’s important to acknowledge the person’s feelings and take all the necessary steps to fully correct any problems. The patients or family members will remember the effort you and your team dedicated to turning the situation around.
Looking for more ways to increase patient satisfaction? Our free guide The Ultimate Patient Satisfaction Checklist will help you ensure you’re addressing all key areas for happier patients and improved HCAHPS scores.