How to Respond to 3 Difficult Patient Scenarios

Lea Chatham January 6th, 2015

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Tweet this Kareo StoryBy Cheryl Bisera

There are questions your staff deal with regularly that have simple answers like, “What’s your earliest morning appointment?” And then there are tough, sticky questions like, “Why does this cost so much?” Questions that on paper look benign but when asked with an agitated voice and demeanor speak volumes about patient frustration or fear. Every question or concern is an opportunity for staff to show patients that you’re on their side and on your game. But that’s not always what happens. Sometimes staff answer in ways that further agitate, frustrate, or alienate patients. A flippant or careless response can damage patient loyalty and confidence.

One way to tackle this issue is to dialog with staff about common potentially negative interactions with patients. Staff need to understand the tone and culture you expect them to reflect in every interaction. Providing scripts and a time to practice can boost confidence while helping them grasp what stellar patient experiences will require of them.

There’s an art to turning a potentially toxic situation into a positive, clinic-patient relationship exchange. It might not be natural for everyone, but it’s an essential skill for staff in key posts that tend to take more heat than others—like the front desk.

Here are three scenarios and patient-friendly responses to get started on developing scripts and preparing to turn a potentially negative interaction into positive partnership-building dialog.  Tweet this Kareo story

  1. The Agitated Waiter: When a patient has been waiting 15 minutes and appears anxious or annoyed, this is a great time to take control of the situation and diffuse negative emotions with respectful communication. Ask the patient if you might speak with them a moment. When they approach: “I apologize for the wait. I am so sorry, however Dr. Robertson needed more time with her last patient. We’ll get you in as soon as we can. Would you like a cup of water or coffee while you wait, or if you prefer, she can see you at 1:30?” Offering patients a respectful apology, options, and a sense of control is usually enough for them to feel like you’re on their side.
  2. The Exasperated Newbie: When a new patient is asked to fill out what feels to them like a zillion forms and is expressing impatience with the process, instead of rolling eyes and saying “that’s just the way it is” try taking an advocacy approach. An example is, “I understand but it’s important for Dr. Bennett to be able to take care of you. If there is anything you need help with or don’t understand, I’m here to help.” Again, showing patients you are there for THEM.
  3. New Payment Policies: Upon arrival, give each patient a copy of the new policy to sign, stating, “Ms. Swanson, we have implemented a new payment policy and mailed everyone a notice, but here’s a form for you to sign, please. If you have questions I would be happy to answer them for you.” If the patient is not prepared to pay at time of service: “I can help you, Mrs. Swanson. We take Visa and Mastercard for your convenience.” If they claim they can’t afford it; “Our policy allows for you to pay 50% today and I’ll give you an envelope to mail the remainder in 14 days, will that work for you?”

By equipping your staff with an understanding of your expectations and the tools to fulfill them, you can position your practice for success in 2015!

About the Author

Cheryl Bisera photoCheryl Bisera is a consultant, author and speaker with extensive experience in marketing and business promotion that spans more than ten years in which she worked with professionals to strengthen their position in the marketplace. She is the founder of Cheryl Bisera Consulting, a California-based image development and marketing company that focuses on the healthcare industry and author of the book, The Patient-Centered Payoff. Cheryl has spoken for regional medical management organizations, conducted customer-service workshops, and written numerous articles for publications such as KevinMD, Physician Magazine, and the Journal of Medical Practice Management.

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