Posted by Naomi Nessim, June 25, 2018 (last updated on November 25, 2018)
Once a patient walks into an urgent care clinic, the front desk staff is their first point of contact. Every impression they have — positive or negative — begins at this moment. Any front desk staff member knows that creating an exceptional experience for patients who are injured or ill isn’t always easy. However, when patients receive great customer service, they’re likely to come back every time they need care.
Anxiety and anger are two very real and common emotions to layer upon a sickness or an injury. While it isn’t pleasant, it is a basic human response that needs to be met with compassion and a plan.
How to Handle an Angry Patient?
The initial complaint among angry urgent care patients is usually that they want to be seen by a doctor…now. Of course, when someone has a minor injury or illness, it’s only natural for them to want care fast. That is, after all, one of the reasons so many people choose urgent care over the ER or their regular doctor’s office.
Dealing with an angry patient isn’t easy, especially when you’re juggling all of the other responsibilities that come with being front desk staff. There are several simple things you can do to help diffuse the patient’s anger and make them feel valued and understood.
- Practice empathy — When an angry patient is complaining, be sure to listen to them intently. They want to feel as though their frustrations are being acknowledged. Even if you can’t do anything, it’s important to make an effort. Often, when an angry patient feels that their complaint is being taken seriously, they’ll relax and become easier to manage.
- Let them know that they will be treated and give them a time frame to the best of your ability — Again, wait times are one of the biggest complaints that angry patients have. One easy way to mitigate this is to give them a rough time frame of when they can expect to be seen and update them if the wait time becomes longer.
- Give them the option of going to the ER— If a patient is truly angry about waiting to be seen at urgent care, it can be helpful to kindly let them know that they can go to the emergency room if they want to. Many urgent care patients will do just that and then come back to the urgent care center because the wait time was even longer at the ER. Knowing there’s another option but it will take longer can help the patient manage their expectations.
- Ask what you can do to help them have a better experience — Angry patients are just people who want to know they’re going to get the care they need to feel better. Asking them how you can help them feel more comfortable is a wonderful act of empathy that can help the situation become more pleasant for everyone.
- Stay calm — The most important thing you can do when faced with an angry patient is to stay calm yourself. It can be very challenging to stay calm and collected when someone is taking out their frustrations on you. However, doing so will help the situation remain at a manageable level. Whatever you do, don’t tell the patient to calm down or relax as these statements can be inflammatory and make the situation worse.
How to Handle an Anxious Patient?
Many of the solutions for dealing with an angry patient can be adapted to an anxious patient. Staying calm, keeping them informed about how long they’ll need to wait, and practicing empathy are all key ways to handling a patient who is worried or anxious.
While an angry patient is likely feeling that way due to wait times, an anxious patient could be feeling that way for any number of reasons. Here are a few ways you can help an anxious patient feel valued:
- Acknowledge them and let them know you can help — From the moment they walk in the door, a patient should know that you see them and are going to help them. Let them know you’ll get them back to see a doctor as soon as possible. While simple, this truly can make a difference in the experience an anxious patient has at your urgent care center.
- Try to personalize the situation — Even the simple act of asking a patient their name and then addressing them by it can help soothe anxiety. To take it a step further, you can walk them through the entire process up front: “first, you’ll fill out a few forms, then I’ll go over payment information with you, etc.” Knowing what to expect at each step is a great way to make an anxious patient feel like a valued customer.
- Find out what they’re anxious about — Going to the doctor isn’t easy for some people. Paying for healthcare isn’t easy for others. There are endless reasons a patient may be anxious (and they don’t always have to do with being at urgent care). If you can, find out what they’re anxious about. If it’s something you can help address, do so. Otherwise, let them know that you’re there to help in any way you can.