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When you’re about to lose patience with a patient

Working with the public isn’t easy. And working in a medical office, where people are often at their worst, can be especially trying.

Be that as it may, your role as a medical office manager demands professionalism at all times, even when a patient has pushed you to the limit of your patience.

Remember this

It sounds like a given, but it helps to remind yourself that the people visiting your office are patients—and, as patients, they require medical care. For many people, medical appointments trigger anxiety, fear, anger, and a range of other emotions and reactions.

Writing for, a well-known and respected physicians’ blog, Arshya Vahabzadeh, MD cites four common “root” causes of patient anger:

  • pain;
  • fear and worry;
  • feeling unheard or uninvolved; and
  • an unidentified medical condition or psychiatric disorder.

As a medical office manager, you cannot address a patient’s pain or diagnosis an unidentified medical condition or psychiatric disorder. You can and should, however, make the patient’s physician aware of any symptoms the patient exhibits.

With regard to fear and worry, it’s essential that you not dismiss even the most routine office visit as inconsequential. Every person has a history, and this history includes a family medical history. While you may think a patient’s fear of a routine medical exam is unfounded, he may be remembering that a routine exam led to his father’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent death.

You can’t possibly understand each patient’s circumstances, but you can make it a point to manage with compassion. This requires additional patience on your part, along with a willingness to overlook certain behavior on the part of others.

Know yourself

In order to become more accepting of other people’s behavior, it helps to first recognize your level of tolerance. Yes, it’s called knowing yourself.

If you are easily annoyed, you’ll need to adjust your tolerance level. This is easier said than done. Yet it can be done.

Take a good look at your triggers, those things that cause you to react. Then, when you’re in a situation where one of those triggers gets pulled, choose a different reaction. Or, at the very least, tone down your typical response. It will take some practice, but eventually your new response will become automatic.

Another approach is to separate your personal feelings from the professional situation. Perhaps that pushy older gentleman reminds you of your uncle, who is the most annoying person on the face of the Earth. But here’s the rub: This man is not your uncle. He’s a patient and you’re the office manager. Any similarity between Uncle Ernie and this patient, real or imagined, doesn’t matter. You have a job to do, and your job requires professionalism—at all times.

Recognize the issues

Granted, some people are difficult. Still, even when faced with an especially trying patient, there is usually an upside.

The encounter provides an opportunity to improve some aspect of the patient experience, and therefore improve the practice.

Is a patient unhappy about long wait times? This is something the practice should address. Rather than apologize to the patient and let it go at that, apologize, acknowledge the problem, and let her know that the practice is working to improve the situation. Remember, Vahabzadeh says one of the reasons patients get angry is that they feel unheard or uninvolved. Let patients know you hear them.

Billing issues create patient anxiety and anger as well. If billing is an ongoing problem for your office, take a look at your process. Even better, if a patient is unhappy about the process, ask what would work for him. This way, he feels heard and is involved.

Effective communication is an important aspect of your job, and remaining patient allows for better communication. When you exhibit patience, particularly in a stressful situation, you also showcase your professionalism. It all has a positive impact on the medical practice—and yes, your patience will help the practice keep its patients.

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