Do You Have a Peeved Patient Plan?

By Practice Growth February 25, 2020

Imagine your practice is in the middle of a crazy Monday afternoon and short one front-desk person, your EHR system crashed 20 minutes ago, and the doctor has fallen behind by 30 minutes.  Suddenly you hear a loud commotion at your front desk as one of the quietly waiting patients is no longer patient or quiet. The patient is beyond upset and is yelling at your new front office staff about the delay. What will you do to calm this situation? More importantly, does your staff members know what they are supposed to do in this situation? What is your Peeved Patient Plan (PPP)? We, as leaders often, drill into our teams the importance of providing excellent patient care, but mistakes happened. You and your staff need to know what to do when those situations arise. How you handle this situation and others like it can have a major effect keeping patients whole to the practice and toward the practice’s future growth. You need a PPP.

The first thing to remember is that it is not personal, so don’t take is as such. Do not allow your voice to raise in volume as the patient’s increases. The best way to suppress a patient yelling is the lower your voice. It is a natural instinct to try and match the volume of the person with whom you are having a conversation, so use it to your advantage.  Remember that other patients may be watching how you handle this situation and a good way to win this battle of public support is to be the calm one. Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times patients have apologized for the way another patient has behaved. There are several tricks to remaining calm in confrontational situations. Try focusing on something physical, like your breathing or the feeling on the floor beneath your feet.

 The next step is seating the upset patient. It is a simple trick that calms the patient, making it easier to provide solutions to the problem. The manager’s arrival in the middle of the intense situation will only serve to make it more volatile. It is vital that your staff knows ahead of time that the plan calls for it to have the patient seated before coming to you for help. Otherwise, the staff will feel abandoned. Staff just needs simply to say to the patient “please follow me and have a seat while I go get my manager to straighten this out for you.” Then walk the patient over to a seat and move it, inviting the patient to sit. Just like on a first date, people are programmed to sit when someone pulls out a chair for them. Next. the staff member comes to you with his/her version of the problem so that there is not a back-and-forth in front of the patient. You can also begin to fix the problem while you go out to talk to the patient. For example, in the case of a patient upset about the delay, while you go to talk to the patient front, office staff can determine an updated wait time.

When you speak with the patient, apologize for the wait and tell him/her that you are here to help. Ask the patient to describe the issue from the beginning. This will allow the patient to vent and get out all of the frustrations.  People just want to know that someone is taking their concerns seriously. Taking notes while the patient talks helps you catch the most important points, shows the patient you are listening, and that you care. Once the patient has finished, restate the problem orally. This also reinforces that you are listening and heard the concerns. The final step is to address the concerns, making certain that you are earnest and honest.

If everyone on your staff is aware of their role in the PPP, it makes for a less stressful and smoother experience when solving patient concerns. You need to review the PPP with your staff regularly in meetings and huddles so that everyone knows how to maintain their composure and to get the patient seated. Coaching and role-playing common complaints at staff meeting will allow you to learn from past mistakes and create plans to prevent such mistakes in the future. Proper planning can prevent poor performance and it can also prevent peeved patients.

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