Ever had a patient like this kid? Think about the last time someone got angry with you or accused you of something that you didn’t do. How did you respond? If you’re human, chances are you defended yourself, explaining to the other person how he was wrong.
As physicians we all encounter angry, frustrated patients. After all, they don’t come to see us when they’re happy and feeling well. Yet, no matter the cause for their anger, we need to remain professional. Unfair? Perhaps. But it’s just the way it is. When it comes to managing unhappy patients, it’s a good idea to use the BLAST method:
Believe: You have to express belief even if the patient is exaggerating or is factually incorrect. Expressing belief to the patient engenders understanding, support, and empathy, which leads to trust. And when you have trust, you eliminate the desire to argue. Conversely, belittling or trivializing a patient’s belief hinders communication, trust building, and ultimately successful outcomes.
Listen: Stop your mind and your mouth. No matter how hard it is for you, let the patient express his or her complaints without interruption. Don’t be thinking of how to formulate a retort; instead, be an active, engaged listener which will assure the patient that his concerns and expectations are understood. Active listening also means never defending or justifying your actions. Doing so makes the patient feel like you’re not taking responsibility. Ultimately, patients want solutions not excuses.
When the patient is done talking, rephrase what they have said to ensure that you’re both on the same page. You’re not changing what the patient said; you’re merely making sure that you’ve heard him or her correctly.
Apologize: Apologizing isn’t weak, and it isn’t an admittance of wrongdoing. It’s simply the right thing to do for the patient A sincere apology, even if you did nothing wrong, will help diffuse fear, frustration, and anger, and lead to trust. Many physicians falsely believe that an apology will increase the likelihood of being sued. The opposite is true. Apologizing reduces the likelihood of litigation because the patient feels that you have listened to him or her and have taken responsibility.
Satisfy: Your goal is to have a satisfied patient. Therefore, try to solve the patient’s problem and allay any concerns. If something cannot be fully resolved, then calmly explain why to the patient. He or she will appreciate your honesty. Then, ask the patient what he or she wants. Sometimes it’s much simpler than you think. If it isn’t, then propose 2 to 3 options that you can follow through on. This will show that you really want to satisfy the patient and will give him or her a feeling of control. Finally, remind the patient that you are available to talk in the near future, and follow up.
Thank: Thank the patient for giving you a second chance and for giving you the opportunity to work with him or her to resolve the problem. Also, be sure to also thank them for not damaging your reputation. Gratitude goes a long way in building trust and rapport with patients.
Photo credit: FCC, Mith17