As a medical professional, the proper diagnosis and treatment of your patients are always top of mind. And as good as your diagnostic skills are, you may be missing the symptoms of another “malady” that some of your patients are presenting with these days. It’s a very real disorder that will only worsen without proper treatment, and its name is “dissatisfaction”.
Patient anger and frustration are not new. But in the wake of healthcare changes, such as the Affordable Care Act, and other challenges that today’s patients now face with respect to receiving the quality medical care that they expect and deserve, patient anger and frustration are on the rise. And medical professionals that fail to adequately acknowledge and appease their disgruntled patients will quickly find them abandoning their practices.
Statistics show that it takes 80% less effort to retain current patients than to attract and recruit new ones. Clearly, keeping patients not just healthy but happy is a preferred outcome for all medical professionals.
If you’ve been facing this challenge as a health professional, here’s a look at how to better diagnose and treat disgruntled patients in your practice.
Determine the patient’s true frustration or concern
Getting a thorough medical history is invaluable in providing quality healthcare. The same practice holds true for disgruntled patients. Before attempting to “fix” anything, it’s critical to open up the lines of communication by simply saying,
“You seem upset. Why don’t you tell me what’s bothering you?”
When your patient sees that you are aware that they are upset and are willing to listen to what they have to say, they will be more likely to open up to you and let you know what is really going on with them. Maybe, you thought that the patient was upset with the care they are receiving. When, in fact, the problem might have stemmed from a billing issue, the high co-pays they were being charged for office visits, or an issue with finding a parking place at your office building. Getting a proper history of the problem will help you to use that information to formulate the best response.
Common patient frustrations and how to respond
Among the many issues that may cause a patient to become disgruntled, the following are those that are frequently seen in today’s busy practices:
1. Long Wait Times
Healthcare professionals are constantly under pressure to take on greater patient loads, and the direct result is longer patient wait times. Having to sit in the waiting room with other sick patients for lengthy periods of time before seeing the doctor can be particularly frustrating for elderly patients and the parents of sick young children. This frustration is further compounded when the physician walks into the exam room and begins the exam without first acknowledging the long wait—let alone attempting to explain the reasons for the delay and then apologizing for it.
How to Respond: Upon entering the exam room it’s best to be preemptive by quickly letting the patient know that you are aware and genuinely sorry that they had to wait so long. Offering an explanation for why it took longer, such as the patient you just saw had a more complicated medical problem than you had anticipated and you needed to spend more time with them, is also important in letting the patient know that you intend to treat all of your patients—including them—properly and thoroughly. The last thing you want to do in this situation is to give your current patient the impression that you are rushing your visit with them in order to get back on schedule. Be honest and open and assure your patient that you are here for them and are willing to give them your time and full attention to make sure they receive the best treatment possible.
2. Feeling Unimportant
The old adage, “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care,” readily applies to patients in the doctor’s office. Recently an emergency room physician published the following observation on the medical news source Medscape:
“In over 40 years of practice, I haven’t run into a patient who isn’t manageable. I make believe that every patient is wearing an invisible sign that says, ‘I want to feel important.’ Patients don’t want to feel as if they received the crumbs of your attention. In assembly-line medicine, docs tend to lose sight of the art of listening and encouraging communication with their patients.”
How to Respond: Although a full waiting room tells them otherwise, your patient wants to feel that they are the only one you are treating that day and that you really care about them. Sitting down to talk with your patient on their level is a good way to show a disgruntled patient that you value them and are there to help them. If your patient asks questions that may challenge any aspect of the course of treatment you have chosen, don’t be dismissive and don’t get on the defensive. Listen to your patient and be honest and straightforward about your choice.
3. Disrespectful Staff
Your patient may love the care you provide. But they need to interact with a host of others in your office before they get to the exam room. And if they feel disrespected by other office personnel—receptionists, medical assistants, nurses, billing staff, etc.—they can become disgruntled to the point that they will seek care elsewhere.
How to Respond: Train your staff to treat patients the way they expect to be treated when they visit the doctor. Teach them communication skills to enable them to recognize and manage disgruntled patients before they become ex-patients.
These and other frustrations, left unchecked, can result in the patient requesting a medical records transfer, and that’s a major red flag. But as explained in a recent article from PatientPop, it’s also,
“…the perfect time to set in motion procedures to possibly help you retain the patient, or at the very least, learn how you can improve your practice.”
Disgruntled patients are a problem in even the best medical practice. Implementing these and other procedures will help you to reduce patient attrition and build a healthy sustainable practice with a happy patient base.