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Clinical Solutions Blog

10 Powerful Steps To Defuse Angry Patients

Posted by Darren Chuang on Apr 9, 2015 2:04:00 PM


From time to time, we might be faced with a difficult angry patient.

You know, the types that are a little on the demanding side:

“What do you mean my appointment’s not today?”

“Look, I’ve been waiting for over half an hour...”

“I want to speak to the owner right now!”

Sound familiar?

Unfortunately these situations are common occurrences in physiotherapy, chiropractic, and massage therapy clinics. It's not necessarily your fault because circumstances can be out of your control. Or, it may be that the client is overly emotional. Let's face it, dealing with pain and injury can be an emotional and frustrating experience for patients.

Regardless of the situation, or its cause, dealing with angry patients can sometimes be tricky. And you really want to do it tactfully to ensure your reputation doesn't suffer. The last thing you want is for someone to post bad reviews on Facebook, Google Reviews, or some other social media channel and slander your brand! 

Trust me, after running my own clinics, I've not only dealt with many difficult angry patients, but I've learned how to overcome the problem, too.

Successfully defusing hostility and getting that patient to advocate for you is an entirely different ball game, one that you need to learn. Thankfully, I'm here to provide a helping hand and have 10 powerful steps you can use to effectively defuse any nasty situation.

10 Powerful Steps To Defuse Angry Patients

1. Keep the patient up-to-date

“I have a quick update on your extension coverage...” 

Applying for insurance coverage extensions can be a long and time-consuming process. Keep in mind that the patient filling out the paperwork doesn’t know the process as well as you do. Keeping them in the loop on any notifications that pertain to them will help you avoid having to deal with unnecessary frustration and confusion. 

2. Show empathy 

“That is unfortunate” 

Show concern for the client's feelings. They’re human too and have emotions just like everyone else. Display a concerned, sincere, and interested facial expression to communicate that you care. People respond more to how you say something than what you say - so make sure that your body language, along with what you say, shows the client empathy and compassion.  

3. Try to accommodate 

“Let me see what I can do for you” 

The patient showed up to their appointment on the wrong day or came in without an appointment at all! Point is - they’re here now. Try your best to accommodate the client within the same day and affirm what can and cannot be done. Sending back a client or refusing to accommodate will only leave a bad taste in their mouth and lose you an opportunity to earn some Karma points!

4. Watch your tone 

*Calm and collected* 

You can’t fight fire with fire. If the client starts yelling, speak slowly and in a lower, softer tone. Your calm demeanor will reflect on them and help them settle down - helping you handle the situation better. As you approach the situation with a calm and clear mind, unaffected by the client's tone or volume, their anger will generally dissipate.

Wondering how to get patients to stick with your treatment plan?
Check out this handy patient compliance form


5. Acknowledge their concerns 

“I totally understand where you’re coming from” 

Realize that you’re in this difficult situation because the patient believes in something different from what the reality is. Acknowledge their perspective and assure them that you understand where they're coming from. Once they know that they’re not alone and have someone who knows what they need, they’ll be a lot nicer to you. When you build rapport and try to see things from the client’s perspective, you’ll gain a more comprehensive understanding of the situation.

6. Let the client vent 


The patient just wants to be listened to, acknowledged and understood. So maintain your eye contact and don’t slouch! Remain attentive and listen with an open mind.

7. Don’t blame

“There are a couple things that need clarification and then we’ll be good to go” 

Do not - I repeat - do not blame your client! When explaining policy or procedures or even trying to clarify what went wrong, use an indirect approach ("There are a few questions before I can give you a refund"). Also make use of "I" statements ("I need additional information"). This way the patient isn’t put on the spot and you won’t look like the bad guy. Remember the patient obviously don’t consider the situation their fault to begin with.

8. Don’t take it personally 

“It’s not me, it’s you” 

Hate to break it to you - but - the world does not revolve around you. The patient who’s giving you a hard time or getting unnecessarily personal is venting frustration to a representative of the company - not *insert your name here*. Just guide the conversation back to the issue and how you intend to resolve it, and try to ignore personal comments.

9. Restate their concerns 

“So what I’m hearing is...” 

Address technical, administrative, as well as emotional aspects of the patient concerns. Yes, all of them. By reiterating their concerns you can convince the patient that you have heard their complaints and that you are on the same page. You’ll be better focused on the appropriate issues and the client will be reassured that you are concentrating on the proper priorities.

10. Smile 

*Head Nods/Smiling* 

When all else fails, just smile and nod. Even if everything’s going perfectly - smile and nod. Show that you’re listening and interested in speaking with the client about whatever the situation may be. Taking an interest will increase your rapport with the client and your benevolent nature will win them over!

It is important to also remember that if the patient is a bad fit for the clinic, it’s better not to do business with them in the first place. This way you’ll save your time as well as the client's, allowing for both parties to do business with people who are better suited to do so. You will, however, need to identify this incompatibility earlier on - ideally during the first assessment.


Related Articles 

Why Do Patients Self Discharge From Treatment and What To Do About It?

How to Measure Patient Satisfaction and Boost Your Referrals

How to Boost Patient Compliance that Drives Repeat Visits

Supercharge Your Patient Retention with PVA

Clinic Owner Interview Series: #4 Darin Cohen - Why I decided to have business partners


Download Patient Compliance Form


Topics: Patient Engagement

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