Anger is a natural emotion that affects everyone now and then, but when an angry patient comes to your front desk, the repercussions can be serious. Not only can dealing with stressed-out patients make it hard for your front desk team members to do their jobs, but having someone cause a scene in your waiting room can create ripple effects with the other patients who are quietly waiting their turn to see the doctor.
As with many other areas of life, your best defense is a solid plan so you can be proactive rather than reactive. If you know how to recognize the signs that a patient is getting mad, you can take steps to calm the angry patient and rectify the situation before they start spouting profanities, scare away other patients, or threaten your team members.
Check out these five strategies you can use to identify an angry patient before things get out of hand at your practice.
1. They’re Looking at Their Watch
If someone starts looking at their watch or phone repeatedly and then looking back toward the front desk at you, they could be getting frustrated. Even if their appointment isn’t behind schedule, they may be in a time crunch completely unrelated to your practice, or perhaps they’re eager to see the doctor because they aren’t feeling well or are awaiting test results. Either way, if you see someone repeatedly checking the time, you could be getting ready to experience an angry patient.
This is even more true if the watch glance is followed by a heavy sigh, a crossing of the arms, or an eye roll. These signs indicate that the patient is getting mad.
2. They Start Pacing
People who are frustrated may have so much energy about the situation that they can’t sit still, so if you see a patient pacing around your office, it’s possible that they’re upset or angry. In some cases, the pacing may be accompanied by mumbling or loud talking to other people, but pacing alone could be enough of a signal to tell you that things are about to escalate.
3. They Do the “Glare and Stare”
Sometimes patients will glare at the reception desk with a nasty look, or just stare at you consistently. This type of behavior is typically a surefire sign that the patient is thinking about approaching the desk. They may not react angrily yet, but if they’re planning to ask how much longer the wait will be, or whether the doctor is there, you want to be ready with a response.
4. The Tone or Volume of Their Voice Changes
You may equate every angry patient with yelling, but the reality is that other vocal shifts can indicate that a person is getting mad at your practice. For instance, they may get quieter instead of getting louder. For some people, this is a sign that they are trying very hard not to erupt, so they are deliberately softening their voice as a way to control themselves.
Other people might start talking in a higher or deeper voice if they are starting to get mad. Take note of all shifts in voice and tone to get a firm understanding of whether your patient is getting angry.
5. They Move into Your Personal Space
If a patient gets too close to you, that could be a sign that things are about to escalate. Entering someone else’s personal space often means they’re trying to intimidate you. Although some people naturally stand close when talking, if close-range conversation is combined with any of the other above warning signs, it’s smart to quickly de-escalate the situation to ensure that the encounter doesn’t get loud or violent.
Keep in mind that these warning signs won’t always be present, and you may find that patients suddenly have outbursts with no prior indication at all. However, looking out for these warning signs will help you prevent the majority of angry patient interactions at your practice.
Stay tuned: In our next article, we share tips on how to respond to patients who are getting angry, as well as questions you can ask to get to the real root of the patient’s grievance. You can read that here.
Want to find out what you should do to de-escalate angry patients? Check out the online training session, De-Escalate Angry Patients at Your Front Desk More Quickly, presented by John White, CPP, CHPA. During the 60-minute training, you’ll find out how to prevent incidents before they start, and how to calm patients who are already upset.
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