Revenue Cycle Management Blog | GroupOne Health Source

6 Ways to Work Well with Difficult Patients

Written by Kaitlyn Houseman | October 12, 2015

Unfortunately, every medical practice has some of "those" patients: ones who are rude, disrespectful, noncompliant, or who behave inappropriately. Difficult patient encounters are made of three elements: the situation, the patient, and the physician.

Situational components may include language barriers, the presence of multiple people in the exam room, or having to break bad news to a patient. Difficult patients may be angry, defensive, frightened, grieving, or manipulative. And though it can be hard to admit, physicians play a role in difficult patient encounters too, by behaving defensively or arrogantly, for example. Having a plan for coping with difficult patients is important. Following are 6 steps you can take to improve difficult patient encounters.

1. The Foundation: Excellent Documentation Is Your Starting Point

The better your practice documentation, from appointment scheduling through marking a bill as "paid," the less likely you are to have misunderstandings. Furthermore, having documentation can back you up when you and a patient disagree about something that happened. Practices using eClinical Works find it easier to maintain excellent documentation throughout the patient encounter and the entire revenue cycle. With eClinicalWorks you have the ability to make private notes about a patient within the patient chart. Whether it be follow up about recent vacation or doesn't like small talk, this note can come in handy to building the right relationship with a patient. 

2. Understand Family Dynamics When Dealing With Patient Family Members 

The more you understand about a patient's family dynamic, the better you can communicate. When family members are present during an exam or discussion, ask them to introduce themselves and learn what their relationship to the patient is. The more eye contact you can make with the patient and family members, the more likely they will perceive you as engaged and caring. Reviewing a patient's history, including personal history beforehand helps too.

3. Acknowledge That Every Patient Wants to Feel Important 

Whether they say so or not, every patient wants to feel important and that his or her problem matters. With physicians having to see so many patients, it can be hard to avoid "assembly line medicine," but it's critical that clinicians communicate and actually listen to patients. Avoiding the temptation to interrupt can be hard, and sometimes you have to guide a conversation back to the problem, but it's important to allow patients to tell their stories. Building a trusting and understanding relationship with your patient can help them become more engaged with their health over time.

4. Establish Boundaries and Enforce Them Consistently  

Sometimes you have to make it clear that neither you nor your staff will tolerate shouting, threats, profanity, or other bad behavior. Any such behavior should be documented in the medical record, and abusive behavior must be confronted promptly. It may not be easy to stand up to a patient and say, "We don't tolerate that type of behavior," but for some patients, it is the only way to carry on with the patient encounter.

5. Know When and How to Apologize 

Doctors may be reluctant to apologize out of fear it could be used in a liability suit, and that's understandable. However, it's appropriate and good practice to apologize, for example, when a patient has had a long wait time. Acknowledging that you understand their feelings diffuses tension, and if you can correct a problem (by offering to validate their parking slip, or directing them to a billing advocate who can help sort out payments, for example), you should do so. 

6. Invest in Skilled, Experienced Office Staff  

In general, you get what you pay for in terms of staff. You may think you're saving money by hiring a receptionist at minimum wage, but when he or she doesn't have the skills necessary to start the patient encounter off right, you'll waste time, and could lose patients to competitors. You may have to pay higher wages for an experienced, highly competent office staff, but in the long run, it can save you time, trouble, and expense.

It's important that your EHR technology helps the office run more smoothly. When you have a solution like eClinicalWorks RCM for managing patient communication and health records, you can focus more on patients and less on computers. With eClinicalWorks, processing patients from the time they schedule an appointment until their bill is paid is streamlined and works with, not against your office workflows.

GroupOne Health Source specializes in EHR revenue cycle management and eClinicalWorks RCM services for providers across the nation. Contact us to learn more about GroupOne's eClinicalWorks EHR implementation service and revenue cycle management solutions.