A Guide To Handling Difficult Patients In A GP Practice

Anyone working in a frontline role in primary care will be aware that having to handle difficult patients in a GP practice is ‘just part of the job.’ There are many reasons why patients may become challenging, aggressive or uncooperative, and having a better understanding of those reasons is a key component of primary care training. 

It’s essential as primary care managers, that we fully support those who are in direct contact with these difficult patients so they are well-equipped to defuse the situation while still offering them the essential medical care they need. 

Practice receptionists that feel confident to handle even the most challenging circumstances if and when they arise are a true force to be reckoned with – it’s amazing to watch the difference it makes in action.

But first, let’s remind ourselves why some patients become difficult

There are several causes of patients becoming challenging. These include:

  • Being in pain or unwell
  • Misuse of substances or alcohol
  • Distress, anxiety and fear
  • Difficulties in communicating
  • Frustration and unrealistic expectations
  • Having had a previously poor experience

Difficult behaviour may take a number of different forms including:

  • Being controlling or demanding
  • Being unwilling to listen or cooperate
  • Making threats or verbal abuse
  • Becoming physically violent to property or people

The right customer service training for GP practices staff is the best way to equip receptionists and other frontline staff with the skills they need to address these behaviours and situations effectively and without escalating the problem further. 

Identifying The Nature Of The Problem

The first step in diffusing an aggressive or difficult patient is to identify the source of their problem. Is their behaviour due to their medical condition? Or perhaps they are frustrated due to a lack of healthcare resources in your practice. If there are too few GPs that day, appointments or poor staff communication, patients are likely to have a deteriorating mood. 

Getting to the heart of the problem enables frontline staff to address the issue and diffuse the situation. 

Viewing The Situation From The Patient’s Perspective

It can be really difficult for those in the firing line to stay calm and patient when someone is in full-throttle complaint mode but it’s important to step back and view the situation from the patient’s perspective. Even just giving the difficult patient the opportunity to express themselves and get their thoughts off their chest often helps to relieve their distress. 

Taking A Helpful Stance

Rather than having a defensive posture when dealing with challenging patients, it’s important to avoid this. Instead, finding opportunities to show empathy for the patient’s circumstances is essential, and showing a little compassion goes a long way towards helping patients fell that you genuinely care. Even just moving away from the reception desk and asking them to speak to you privately in the corridor away from other patients, can make a real difference.

Setting Boundaries 

Although it’s important to show caring for even the most difficult patient, it’s important to set boundaries and limits if someone is screaming or using verbal or physical abuse. Frontline staff must be taught how to warn patients about the consequences of their aggressive behaviour via targeted GP receptionist training so that they are well-prepared to deal with the potentially traumatic situation when it arises.

Assessing The Risks

Sometimes, there may be situations in which other patients or staff members could be at risk. It’s important to be able to spot when a patient may become aggressive and to take proactive steps to control the situation. If staff are unable to calm the patient, they need to know what to do to contain the patient and reduce the possibility of injuries both to the patient themselves and others in the vicinity.

Getting The Right Training For Frontline Staff

Unfortunately, targeted GP receptionist training is often under-funded and as a result, frontline staff are left ill-equipped to handle potentially stressful situations with difficult patients. Finding the right primary care training if you’re able to therefore is essential. Orr Medical Training’s Effective Customer Service course is one of the best options. 

Through an interactive workshop that explores the most common challenges that frontline staff face and the effective techniques which can address them, this course improves staff morale, patient satisfaction and the practice’s reputation in the most cost-effective and efficient manner.