By Lauretta Justin, OD, of Orlando, Florida
Patients are the lifeblood of our practices. However, difficult patients can leave you and your staff angry, empty and frustrated. But the way you handle difficult patients will define the quality of your patient experience. Not knowing how to deal with difficult patients may lead to low staff morale, low patient volume and a damaged reputation for your practice.
Difficult patients are inevitable, but here are three steps to help you and your team manage those patients.
1. Create a Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs) manual for your office.
• SOPs are step-by-step instructions that act as guidelines for employee work processes. Whether written up in numbered steps or formatted as flow charts, effective SOPs are complete, clearly written and based on input from the people who do the job. When employees follow the SOPs manual for a particular job, they produce a work that is consistent and predictable.
• SOPs allow employees to complete each task in the exact same way every time so that your practice can remain consistent. This will create a set of boundaries that spell out each party’s responsibility in the Patient Care Process. Ultimately, this will relieve the pressure to succumb to the unreasonable demands of difficult patients.
2. Train your team on the SOPs manual and how to implement it.
• In order for your team members to consistently communicate your office policies to every patient, they must be trained on the SOP. This training will be costly, but it’s worth the time and the investment. If you don’t have a manual to guide how your office handles patient request, your patients will create one for you. And since each patient is different, that means you would operate according to a different set of rules every single time. You can see how this is not practical!
• Training your team on the SOPs manual will create peace of mind for you. Not only does it take you out of the equation, it ensures that your team is handling these day-to-day issues the right way—your way. Imagine the freedom that results: you’re sitting eating lunch in your office and a patient comes with unreasonable requests; your team does not come to you for instructions but runs to the SOPs manual instead. No more calling you from the back to handle a difficult patient in the front. That’s what training your team on the SOPs manual can give you—freedom!
3. Stick with it and do not compromise.
• Do not flip flop. If you follow the SOPs manual for some patients and don’t for others, you will create confusion for your team and your patients. Why should your patients follow your policies if you don’t follow them yourself? In addition, your team members will not be confident when they go over those policies with the patients if they’re not sure you will back them up. So stick with the SOPs, and do not compromise.
• With that said, it is important to know that the SOPs manual cannot account for every possible situation. That is why it should have steps for how to handle exceptions. An attorney friend once told me that a good law must always have a loophole. In your SOPs manual, you must create loopholes to give your team members the freedom to use their best judgments in delicate situations. Every office does this differently; however, most offices assign an office manager to handle these delicate situations and to make these judgment calls. There’s no right or wrong way to do this; you just have to chose one and stick to it.
SOPs are meant to increase efficiency, reduce miscommunications and manage unrealistic expectations. A SOPs manual translates into consistency and uniformity, which in turn translates to consistent patient satisfaction.
Your team’s ability to handle difficult patients will improve your overall patient care experience and reduce your stress level. A positive patient care experience means that your patient is more likely to recommend your practice to others and also more likely to come back again.
Creating a SOPs manual to guide your office operations is a win for you, your team and your patients. So, let me ask you this: Do you have a SOPs manual? If you do, great! If not, don’t wait another minute; start writing one today! Until next time, remember to dream big, take risks and discover the CEO in YOU!
Dr. Justin welcomes feedback and questions. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.