Imagine you’re having a conversation with your office manager and she tells you a patient was rude and verbally abusive to another member of your staff while he was checking out. Worse yet, he did this in full view””and earshot””of all the other patients in your reception area. Even if you weren’t present for this particular offense, it’s likely you’ve been told about this patient’s antics before, so what’s an optometrist to do?
To some medical professionals the concept of “firing” a problem patient is almost unimaginable, even if the offender is a confrontational complainer who’s belligerent to you and your staff. But think about the message it sends if you allow someone like that to continue to visit your practice: The people you work with day in and day out will grow increasingly frustrated and that patient will have a markedly negative effect on team morale. You need to realize that one troublesome patient could prove to be a huge liability to your practice.
Sadly, unhappy people sometimes just like to spread their grief. In other cases, outward hostility is just the unfortunate manifestation of a personal crisis someone is struggling through. Regardless, if any patient owes an apology to a staff member, take the time to discuss the situation with that offender. You owe it to your valued team members to do so. Beyond that, keep an eye on social media and review sites. Other patients may be logging online and broadcasting the random ugly and uncomfortable incidents that go on at your office to the masses. If you don’t have an appropriate response, your practice’s reputation could suffer.
When things eventually get to the stage where you do have to dismiss a patient from your practice, there are guidelines and laws you need to follow. Doctors are also required by law to notify the patient in writing of the termination. Make sure you follow all of the rules carefully to reduce any potential backlash.
While other reasons for ending the doctor-patient relationship may include chronic noncompliance with treatment or non-payment of bills, it’s incidents of rudeness that are most likely to turn your workplace into a circus. Instead of spending valuable time dealing with all of the drama that comes along with these problem patients, respectfully show them the door and refocus your energy on making the rest of your patients happy. Provide them with the service and attention they deserve and you’ll make your team happier and your practice more profitable.
ERIC L. BRAN, OD, PROFESSIONAL EDITOR