The Intake

Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

How to respond to 3 difficult patient scenarios (with talking scripts)

Give your staff the skills they need to navigate difficult patient scenarios with confidence

Medical office manager dealing with a difficult patient scenarios

At your medical clinic, the staff regularly encounters a range of questions. Some have simple answers, like "What's your earliest morning appointment?" 

But there are also challenging questions, such as "Why does this cost so much?" 

It's important to understand that even seemingly innocuous questions can reveal patient frustration or fear when asked with agitation. 

Every question or concern is an opportunity for your staff to demonstrate their support for patients. However, it doesn't always happen that way. Responses that are flippant or careless can damage patient loyalty and confidence.

To address this issue, collaborate with your staff on effectively managing negative questions or comments from patients. Boosting confidence through scripts and practice can help them provide exceptional patient experiences.

Transforming potentially toxic situations into positive clinic-patient relationships is an art. While not everyone may find it natural, this skill is essential for staff in key positions, such as the front desk, which tends to face more challenging situations.

Here are 3 scenarios and patient-friendly responses to help you get started.  

The agitated patient in the waiting room  

When a patient has been waiting 15 minutes and appears anxious or annoyed, this is a great time to take control of the situation and diffuse negative emotions with respectful communication. 

In a recent survey from Tebra, 42% of patients are “frustrated” when left waiting for a doctor’s appointment, and 1 out of 5 patients think waiting up to 15 minutes is too long. 

If the doctor is running late, ask the patient if you might speak with them a moment. 

When they approach, say: "I apologize for the wait. I am so sorry, however, Dr. Robertson needed more time with her last patient. We’ll get you in as soon as we can. Would you like a cup of water or coffee while you wait, or if you prefer, she can see you at 1:30?" 

Offering patients a respectful apology, options, and a sense of control is usually enough for them to feel like you’re on their side.

The exasperated new patient 

When a new patient is asked to fill out what feels to them like a zillion forms and is expressing impatience with the process, instead of saying "That’s just the way it is," try taking an advocacy approach. 

An example is, "I understand but it’s important for Dr. Bennett to be able to take care of you. If there is anything you need help with or don’t understand, I’m here to help." 

Again, showing patients you are there for THEM.

New patient payment policies

Upon arrival, give each patient a copy of the new policy to sign, saying, "Ms. Swanson, we have implemented a new payment policy and mailed everyone a notice, but here’s a form for you to sign, please. If you have questions I would be happy to answer them for you." 

If the patient is not prepared to pay at the time of service, say "I can help you, Mrs. Swanson. We take Visa and Mastercard for your convenience." 

If they claim they can’t afford it, say "Our policy allows for you to pay 50% today and I’ll give you an envelope to mail the remainder in 14 days. Will that work for you?"

By equipping your staff with an understanding of your expectations and the tools to fulfill them, you can position your practice for success.

What other difficult patient scenarios do you need help with? Drop us a line at [email protected] 

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Written by

Cheryl Bisera, practice management consultant and author

Cheryl Bisera is a consultant, author, and speaker with extensive experience in marketing and business promotion. She is the founder of Cheryl Bisera Consulting, an image development and marketing company that focuses on the healthcare industry. Cheryl has spoken for regional medical management organizations and written numerous articles for publications such as KevinMD, Physician Magazine, and the Journal of Medical Practice Management.

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