Dealing with Difficult Patients: Strategies for Practice Managers

difficult dental patient in chair

Managing difficult patient situations is an inevitable aspect of running a practice. As a practice manager, it is crucial to have effective strategies in place to handle these encounters with professionalism, empathy, and problem-solving skills. By proactively addressing difficult patient situations, practice managers can maintain a positive work environment, uphold patient satisfaction, and ensure the smooth operation of the practice.

  1. Active Listening and Empathy:

When faced with a difficult patient, practice managers should approach the situation with active listening and empathy. Allow the patient to express their concerns, frustrations, or grievances without interruption. Show empathy by acknowledging their feelings and demonstrating that their concerns are being heard. By actively listening and empathizing, you can establish a foundation for effective communication and potentially diffuse the tension.

  1. Remain Calm and Professional:

Maintaining a calm and professional demeanor is essential when dealing with difficult patients. It is important not to take their behavior personally and to respond in a composed and respectful manner. Avoid getting defensive or engaging in an argument. Instead, focus on addressing the patient's concerns, finding common ground, and working towards a resolution. By remaining calm and professional, you set the tone for a constructive conversation.

  1. Practice Effective Communication:

Effective communication is key to managing difficult patient situations. Clearly and concisely communicate with the patient, ensuring that your message is understood. Use simple language, avoid medical jargon, and provide clear explanations. Actively listen to the patient's perspective, ask clarifying questions, and paraphrase to ensure mutual understanding. By practicing effective communication, you can establish a cooperative environment and work towards a resolution that satisfies both the patient and the practice.

  1. Problem-Solving and Offering Solutions:

When confronted with a difficult patient situation, practice managers should approach it as an opportunity to problem-solve and find solutions. Gather all relevant information, assess the situation objectively, and propose potential solutions that address the patient's concerns within the constraints of the practice's policies and guidelines. Offer alternatives, if applicable, and be open to compromise when appropriate. By actively engaging in problem-solving, you demonstrate your commitment to resolving the issue and maintaining patient satisfaction.

  1. Document and Follow-Up:

It is crucial to document any difficult patient situations and the steps taken to address them. This serves as a record for future reference and can provide valuable insights for improving patient experiences and resolving similar issues in the future. Additionally, follow up with the patient after the resolution to ensure their satisfaction and address any remaining concerns. Documenting and following up demonstrate your commitment to patient care and your willingness to address their needs even after the difficult situation has been resolved.

  1. Team Support and Training:

Practice managers should ensure that the healthcare team receives proper training and support to effectively handle difficult patient situations. Conduct regular training sessions that focus on communication skills, conflict resolution, and empathy. Encourage open communication within the team, where they can share their experiences and seek guidance or advice from one another. By providing ongoing support and training, practice managers empower the healthcare team to handle difficult patient situations confidently and professionally.

  1. Seek Professional Mediation, if Necessary:

In rare cases where a difficult patient situation cannot be resolved through internal efforts, practice managers may need to seek professional mediation. Engage a neutral third party, such as a professional mediator or an industry association, to facilitate communication and find a resolution that satisfies both parties. Mediation can help diffuse tensions, promote understanding, and reach a mutually acceptable agreement.


Managing difficult patient situations is a challenging but essential aspect of practice management. By employing strategies such as active listening, empathy, professionalism, effective communication, problem-solving, documentation, and team support, practice managers can navigate these situations with grace and professionalism. By addressing difficult patient situations effectively, you can maintain patient satisfaction, foster a positive work environment, and uphold the reputation and success of your medical practice.

Time to Level Up Your

Staff Communication?