Sep 08, 2011 By: frogdog

Effectively Handling and Preventing Angry Patient Situations

Practices can prevent and better handle angry-patient situations to reduce the severity of ensuing problems.

Into every administrator’s life, an angry patient will fall. Correction: Many angry patients. It’s the nature of health care to deal with people who are under intense psychological stress, and often to bear the brunt of that stress.

FrogDog conducted research prior to the AHRA 2011 meeting to understand why patients get angry and how practices and departments currently handle patient anger. The research results clearly indicate that a great deal of angry patient situations could be prevented—and that practices could better handle the situations that still will occur to reduce the severity of ensuing problems.

The Research

Angry patients cost time. When patients get angry, FrogDog found, they cause disruption among other patients and with department or facility staff (33.33 percent) and escalate the problem to senior administration and supervisory bodies (36.36 percent).

If lost time wasn’t expensive enough, angry patients also absorb funds. Almost 40 percent of practices offer angry patients concessions, from gift cards to free parking and meals.

So why do patients get angry? They’re confused. Research showed that a solid 50 percent of angry-patient incidents are rooted in patient confusion.

Good News

With confusion a major cause of patient anger, practices should reduce the causes of confusion. Simple, right? Not so much. However, four steps are proven to help prevent and ameliorate angry-patient situations:

1. Explain

This is easy to forget amid teeming to-do lists. Explanation needs to be the first step in every patient interaction—even when the task ahead isn’t clinical.

All personnel—even front-desk staff—should explain who they are, what they need to do, and what to expect. Staff members may feel what they’re saying is obvious, but medicine isn’t foreign to them. And they’re not coming to a medical facility for scary tests.

2. Disarm

What aspect of what the employee just explained most often causes confusion—or anger? The employee should disarm the patient by coming straight out with it: “Mr. Smith, many patients get upset about XYZ because ABC.” Patients appreciate the heads up and be surprised that the employee was so forthcoming. The staff member should then say, “I don’t want you to be upset.”

3. Cobuild

Everyone is different. Staff members should not assume they know how to best prevent patients’ anger. Right on the heels of disarming patients, employees should say, “How can we ensure that you don’t get upset?”

Again, staff members should not come up with the solution. Patients may struggle a bit with their answers—and that’s okay. If they tell employees what they need them to do to prevent upset, and the employees do as requested, patients have little grounds for anger. It sounds too simple to work, but it does.

And practices may be surprised at how simple the patients’ suggestions are. Often practices’ suggestions are far more onerous than patients’ actual requests.

4. Post-sell.

Once practices and patients have built solutions together, staff members should confirm the requests and get patients to verbally agree on the solutions: “Ms. Jameson, if we do XYZ, you won’t get upset. Is that right? Is there anything else?”

It is difficult for people to get angry when they’ve said they won’t. Psychologically, people prefer to act in line with their self-images. People who have given verbal commitments are typically unwilling to go against their words.

If they still get angry, employees should gently express surprise or confusion and reaffirm the agreement: “I wish you weren’t upset, Mr. Lee. We did XYZ, just as you’d asked. What changed?”

These are subtle changes to most practices’ workflows, and subtle changes are often the most difficult. To ensure success, administrators should script these interactions—using common scenarios from their operations—and they should hold regular role-playing sessions to give staff members practice and coaching in using these techniques effectively.

Implementation

These are subtle changes to most practices’ workflows, and subtle changes are often the most difficult. To ensure success, administrators should script these interactions—using common scenarios from their operations—and they should hold regular role-playing sessions to give staff members practice and coaching in using these techniques effectively.

Posted: Sep 08, 2011
Updated: Oct 11, 2019
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