The best way to handle difficult patients

Let’s face it, most people don’t place going to the dentist too high on their “favorite things to do” list. And, unfortunately, this can lead to some difficult situations with patients, especially those who come in with a bad attitude about dental treatment or who are in denial about the state of their own dental health.

These patients may be quick to deny treatment suggestions or even become angry or aggressive with you or someone else on your team if they feel their experience in the office doesn’t meet their expectations. Or they may simply be taking their mad mood out on whoever happens to be around them. In any case, at times like this, when a patient is upset and lashing out, how would you respond? Is it in a way that maintains the professionalism of you and your practice? Do you ever wonder if you’re handling disappointed or angry patients the right way?

When handling a patient like this it comes down to one simple idea: you are not the enemy.

If you can get this through to them chances are you’ll be able to diffuse the situation and restore your relationship with the patient. To do this remember these tips:

Sit back and listen

The first tip you should utilize when handling a difficult patient is to step back and let them explain (or shout, state, yell, etc.) their feelings on the situation, so that you can demonstrate that you’re not out to get them or to tell them they’re wrong. Instead, it lets them feel that their opinion is heard and valued. Not to mention, a difficult patient can calm themselves down by talking through what they’re feeling. It gives them a chance to work through the frustration their feeling and get a better handle on it.

Ask questions

Before you start to give opinions or suggestions on how to work through the situation ask the patient questions about what they’ve just told you. Questions like “Were you having this problem before?” or “How do you think I could have handled it?” will give you the understanding you need to frame your response in a way that doesn’t further upset them. Or it may reveal that their anger had nothing to do with you at all—perhaps they were coming straight from a bad day at work or weren’t feeling well—and they just momentarily lost control.

Speak calmly and state facts

When you respond make sure you remain calm and professional. Start by offering an apology if one is necessary and make sure they can see you’re sincere. Then speak to each of their points of frustration with facts. For example, if a patient is unhappy with your diagnosis of the state of their dental health, respond to them with concrete examples of where you see they need improvement. This could be x-rays showing spots of decay, a reminder of bleeding gums when you flossed their teeth, or spots of sensitivity. Emphasize you want them to have the best oral health possible and that you’re there to make that happen. Or if their frustration stems more from a general dislike go of going to the dentist try a broader explanation of how good dental care is important for overall well-being. The goal here is to simply get them to a point where they understand that you and your office aren’t the cause of their anger, even if it that’s how it originally felt. You’re there to help.

At the end of the day you’re not going to convince every difficult patient to love—or even like—dental appointments. But you can help them realize that you’re not the enemy or the true cause of their negative emotions. And by doing this you can maintain the good reputation of your practice by avoiding possible bad reviews and handle difficult patients in a way that will get them closer to a healthy relationship with dental care.