5 Steps for Responding to an Angry Patient

By Susan Keane Baker

An angry complaint can ruin your day. You have to spend extra time dealing with the patient. Extra time spent listening to your colleague’s side of the story. Extra time spent thinking about the situation and how you could have responded differently. Here are some steps for handling angry complaints so they don’t consume more time and energy than necessary.

  1. Take the patient to a quiet area. In a low, calm tone of voice, say to the person, “Let’s step over here to talk. That way, we won’t be interrupted.” The angry patient with an audience will be less likely to accept your point of view.
  2. Let the patient speak his mind without interruption. Otherwise, you may fix the problem, but not fix the relationship. You may be encouraging the patient to embellish and repeat his story to others, as he hasn’t been heard by you.
  3. Avoid rationalizing. There are usually a few oft-repeated rationalizations that come immediately to mind when a patient has a complaint. “It’s the insurance company’s fault.” Or, “this is the way we’ve always done it.” Put yourself in the patient’s shoes for just a moment and consider whether your rationalization is an explanation or an excuse.
  4. Respectfully use the patient’s name in your reply. It’s easier to be obnoxious when you are anonymous, so open that curtain of anonymity by using the person’s name. The tone of your voice is critical when using this technique however. A condescending tone fuels anger while a respectful tone can convey: “I’m on your side.”
  5. Demonstrate your understanding. If sincere, use the “feel, felt, found” technique. For example: “I might understand how you feel. Other patients have said they felt that way, too, when they couldn’t find our department. What they have found is that anyone wearing a hospital name tag is happy to escort them to where they are going. If this ever happens again, please ask anyone wearing a name tag for help. If they can’t escort you, they’ll find another employee heading in the right direction to show you the way.”

Using these techniques will help you resolve conflict more positively, and give you peace of mind that you handled the situation in a professional, dignified manner. And that’s what frees up your mind and your time for more positive, productive activities.