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Handle Angry Patients for Front Desk Win-Win

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Handle Angry Patients for Front Desk Win-Win

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Front Desk Angry Patients

QUESTION: Although most of our patients are friendly, sometimes we have patients who are hard to manage. In a couple of instances, a staff member got upset, the encounter got loud and the physician had to step in. There must be a better way for us to handle these situations. Anonymous, Sacramento, CA

ANSWER: You’re right. How your front desk staff handles angry patients can make or break your practice. If possible, the best answer is to head off the situation before it becomes a problem. For example, if the doctor is running 40 minutes behind, don’t tell the patient “It will be just a few more minutes.”

Patients really don’t like being lied to. Instead, give your patient options. Ask them if they’d like to wait, reschedule or leave and come back. If they decide to wait, maybe offer them a bottle of water or snack. If your patient walks in angry at the world, here are some strategies your front desk staff can use to defuse the situation, hopefully keeping the patient relationship intact:

  • Tone: Keep the same calm, professional tone that you have had throughout the conversation, even if the patient is raising his voice. You can try to calm him by saying something like “It would be really nice if you could lower your voice. This will help be better resolve your issue.” 
  • Name: While responding to the patient use their name. This will let her know that it is a personal conversation that doesn’t really involve everybody out in the practice or facility. .
  • Listen: Give the person time to vent without reacting. Let him say all he needs to say, whether it’s taking up all your time or not. He might just need to get things off his chest. Actively listen to what the complaint is. Often, the patient just wants to feel heard and understood. 
  • Document: Write down the complaint. That way, you can repeat it back to the patient to make sure you understand the issue. You can also use that complaint as part of your quality assurance plan or your individual patient assessment plan. 
  • Resolution: Finally, investigate and try to resolve the issue. If you can’t resolve it on your own, then ask others to help you, and then respond to the patient that’s making the complaint.

Expert: Lorraine J Sivak, CPC, CEPFG Senior Level Consultant

Event: Lorraine has been a practice management expert for years. For more guidance on the best practices to handle an angry patient with care, sign up for Lorraine’s online medical training.

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Meet Your Writer

Lorraine J Sivak
CPC, CEPFG

Senior Level Consultant

With over 30 years of experience, Lorraine has worked in the healthcare revenue cycle with an emphasis on professional fees and compliance. As  a senior level consultant with seasoned expertise in the documentation requirements surrounding Orthopedics, OB-GYN, Neurology, Internal Medicine, and Psychiatry and Psychology, she co-authored “Communicate with Confidence to Physicians”, for the AAPC. She has served as a Director, Practice Administrator and Coding Compliance Officer but her passion has been providing education to providers to help them improve their documentation and fair payments. Heavily committed to supporting community physicians and their staff, she has served as President of her local Medical Society Alliance and Chapter President of her local AAPC chapter. Lorraine is a member of the CompetentSee Advisory Board helping coders to standout in the crowd.  She enjoys spending time with her family in Lady Lake, Florida.