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How to Handle a Difficult Patient

Posted May 31, 2019

The DentalPost Team

There’s very little as frustrating as a troublesome patient. Unfortunately, difficult patients will always exist. You can be the ultimate professional, meeting your patient halfway every time, and they might still find a reason to be angry.  It’s not right, but it’s the reality.

The difference ultimately depends on your reaction. Here are some expert tips to hopefully help you resolve the situation.

Realize That It’s Not Personal

There are many reasons why a patient might become problematic. It could be pain or, perhaps, they’re getting defensive over their oral hygiene. Maybe treatment costs more than they anticipated.

Whatever the reason, it’s rarely ever personal. Their reaction is just poor and you’re the one caught in the middle. It’s not where you want to be, but that perspective can give you a place to start mending the situation.

However, if you feel you are getting attacked due to personal bias, find someone immediately to mend the situation. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to reach a resolution.

Ask Direct Questions

Most of the time, a patient reacts negatively when they don’t understand something or feel like they haven’t been heard. When that occurs, it’s your job as a professional to do your best to inform and listen.

Start by saying, “I can tell that you are upset. I’m sorry. Let’s make this right. What exactly do you need?” They should hopefully voice their grievances and you can start building a solution together.

Get Outside Help

Like mentioned above, outside help can be beneficial if you’re feeling like the patient’s anger is personal. Outside help is also warranted if the patient is mad about something you’re not entirely knowledgable about.

Fair warning: nobody likes to feel overwhelmed. Don’t grab a coworker just to help argue your cause (even if you’re right). Make sure it’s the right timing and person to mend the situation.

Know When to Say Goodbye

Nobody likes to lose a patient. It’s a bad feeling. But if a patient is consistently a problem, it might be time to suggest another practice. By telling the patient that they’d be better served elsewhere; you’ll be saving your fellow professionals (and yourself) a ton of stress.

Honesty is key to making this dialogue run smoothly. Tell the patient, “It’s clear that we cannot come to terms, and I don’t think we can serve your needs here. You should probably consider another practice.”

Typically this sort of honesty is grounding. A patient isn’t required to use your practice, and the idea of leaving something that’s already convenient to them might cause them to rethink the situation and how they’re responding. If they decide to leave, realize that that is just the nature of business. And in the world of social media, do your best to refrain from badmouthing a patient—no matter how ugly they might have acted. Word spreads quickly, and it’s best to not give them ammunition for future arguments.

Hopefully, a combination of these tips will help you ease the patient. There are some instances, however, where it’s your coworker giving you issues—not the patient! For some tips on how to deal with a problematic coworker, read our tips here.


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