Cranky Patients and How to Deal

I don’t know about you, but I firmly believe that the secret to success in my practice has always been less about what I say and more about how I say it. Especially when it comes to deal thing with cranky patients.

I think all the tension and drama of last week had everyone on edge. Patients were feeling it. Employees were feeling it. The combination of Covid stress and election stress just put everyone on their last nerve it seemed.

After working up patients my technician usually pokes her head in my office to let me know that my patient is ready. Twice one morning this past week when she popped her head in she rolled her eyes and let me know that the patient I was about to see was complaining, or being difficult, about the Covid protocols we have in place.

In fact I already knew this because my office manager had already alerted me to the fact that they were making noise about our mask requirement even before they were back with the technician. If you are keeping track this means that these two patients were already complaining and short with both of the people they had interacted with in the short 5 minutes they had been in my office that morning.

So, I have a decision to make at that moment… do I keep a chip on my shoulder, knowing that they are a possible pain in the ass? Or, do I not? Ask yourself, what you tend to choose?

A have a habit that helps me in these situations. Every time I enter the exam room, no matter what I have heard waits within for me, I put on a big smile and OVER-enthusiastically say “Good Morning, how are you today?” or “Hello! How are you today?” The key to the effect of doing this is to be OVER enthusiastic… especially now that there is a mask in the way of patients actually seeing me smiling at them. Doing this, I rarely have a patient able to maintain their sour disposition with me.

Now, my team will tell you that there is also the “white coat effect,” which I don’t dispute plays in my favor… but I don’t think that is the only thing at play here. I truly believe that in the face of overwhelming good will and kindness, in the face of genuine happiness to see them and in the face of ridiculous cheer it is human nature to respond in kind. Or if not in kind, then at least it softens them a little bit and sometimes that little bit is all that is needed to turn around their day and mine.

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