Dealing with difficult patients will always be a challenge for any practice. The following steps can be used to help ensure that various situations can be defused and resolved appropriately.
Patients/family members should be given undivided attention, regardless of being face-to-face or on the phone, as this will help them to know they are being listened to. Allow them to explain their concerns without interruption and listen without attributing fault.
Reassure the patient/family member that their concerns are taken seriously, offering a statement of understanding without agreeing to fault on behalf of the practice, providers, or staff.
Attempt to identify the primary and any underlying reasons of the concern. This will help determine the best course of action on how to properly handle the concern.
A.C.T. (Appear Calm and Tactful)
Regardless of the type of situation, active listening works best. Responses and suggestions should be professional and simple. Be sure to summarize what the patient/family member has stated and suggest possible solutions to the issue (if feasible). In addition, providing assurance that the appropriate personnel (eg Practice Manager, provider, etc) will be informed can also help alleviate the situation.
Remember to always remain calm and professional even if the situation escalates and the patient/family member becomes angry and/or verbally abusive. Keep a safe distance and do not respond until the verbal barrage is over. Should the situation become physical, the proper law enforcement authorities should be contacted immediately.
Conclude & Document
Acknowledge the patient/family member's feelings and thank them for taking time to address their concern. Patient and family satisfaction should be considered a critical component of quality patient care. It is best to try to find areas of agreement; however, this may not always be feasible.
It is essential to document any concern whether it be in the patient's EHR or in written form. A simple documentation form can be used by either the provider/staff member or by the patient/family, and should include the patient's name, date of the concern, overview of the concern, as well as a description of any action taken (Sample Patient Concern Form).
Approaches to the Difficult Patient/Parent Encounter (Pediatrics Article, January 2011)
Consent by Proxy for Nonurgent Pediatric Care (AAP Clinical Report, February 2017)
Pediatricians Face Malpractice Risks When Using Social Media (AAP News, October 2011)
What to Do When Parental Disagreements Spill into Your Office (AAP News, April 2015)
Should Pediatricians allow Parents to Videotape Office Visits? (AAP News, October 2017)