Back to Blog Home

How to Handle a Difficult Patient

Posted May 31, 2019

The DentalPost Team

There’s very little as frustrating as a troublesome patient. Unfortunately, a difficult patient 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 difficult 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

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

DentalPost is the dental industry’s premier and largest online and mobile job board.
We connect and educate more than 850,000 job seekers in the U.S. and Canada to build better places to work through teams that excel.

Featured Posts

reduce hiring bias

Reduce Screening Bias to Find the Best Candidates

Tonya Lanthier, RDH
Tonya Lanthier, RDH

Posted August 19, 2021

Have you ever made the wrong assumption about someone after meeting them the first time? Maybe they reminded you of someone who bullied you as a child or had the […]

Read more
ghosting dentist

Ghosting Hurts Everyone & Our Industry

The DentalPost Team
The DentalPost Team

Posted April 15, 2021

It’s a challenging time for dental practices looking to fill clinical team member positions on their teams. An already tight labor pool, coupled with fewer graduate candidates, makes 2021 an […]

Read more
Calendar with dental instrument and denture

National Dental Holidays to Celebrate at Your Practice

The DentalPost Team
The DentalPost Team

Posted March 3, 2021

Recognizing your dental team for their hard work over the year is quintessential to having a successful practice. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are great examples of appreciation days for […]

Read more