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Are you ready to deal with difficult patients?


Sooner or late you'll come across an angry patient - make sure your staff is prepared.

Your patients are generally nice and easy to get along with, especially when things are running smoothly in the office.

However, because you’ll never able to please everyone all of the time and you’ll have days when things go wrong, you’ll have to deal with difficult or unsatisfied patients from time to time. Are you ready?

Related article: One simple way to build patient loyalty

When it comes to dealing with difficult patients, most dentists are reactive when they should be proactive. However, when you take the time to prepare for difficult patients, you’ll increase your chances of coming up with solutions that will satisfy them while causing minimal disruption to the practice.

Is your practice prepared?

Imagine a day when a patient comes up to the front desk and is very unhappy with everything. She had to wait too long for her dental appointment, she was uncomfortable in the chair, she’s now 20 minutes late for wherever she’s headed after her appointment and she thinks her dental fee is incorrect. This patient then goes into attack mode, taking it out on the front desk staff member who is doing her best to do her job.

What’s the first thing your front desk person will do? Without a plan, the answer is unpredictable. When people are attacked they often behave differently than they do the other 99.9 percent of their lives. They may lash out, they may apologize, they may say the wrong thing-they may even cause the loss of a patient.

One could argue that a patient who verbally attacks the front desk person shouldn’t be retained in the practice, but I believe that most of these situations can be handled properly and to the satisfaction of everyone involved. Achieving this, however, becomes much more difficult if your front desk staff has never received training on how to deal with unhappy patients. Without training, they’ll always be scrambling to resolve inevitable patient issues.

Train. Practice. Repeat.

The key to handling patient problems is training and practice. Successful companies like Starbucks know this well. Rather than waiting to see how their baristas will handle themselves when orders become overwhelming or when a customer receives the wrong food or beverage, they role-play these situations and practice them. Then they practice again. Why? Because it’s going to happen. There will be unhappy Starbucks customers.

And just like your local Starbucks will have its fair share of difficult customers, you’ll have unhappy dental patients. If you follow the Starbucks model of training, role-play and practice, it will help your staff to stay calm, work through it and keep patients happy.

Related article: How to deal with difficult patients

At every monthly business review meeting have a short session to role-play dealing with difficult patients, with one team member acting as the difficult patient and another team member responding to the patient. Everyone, including the participants, should critique the role-play in a fun and non-judgmental manner. If people get it wrong, just laugh about it and work hard toward getting it right.  


The angry and attacking patient is an unfortunate but inevitable issue that your staff must be trained to handle. The good news is that when you can turn an angry or attacking patient around, you’ve usually built a stronger and better relationship than ever before.

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