Handling an Angry Patient

Your day at the front desk is going along well with a lot of really nice clients or patients who are very appreciative of the terrific service and care they have received. Then suddenly, the calm and peace is ripped apart by an angry client, whether on the phone or in person. This is never a fun experience but let’s see if there are ways to handle it as smoothly as possible.

The First Step

Stay calm. Easier said than done, but YOU CAN DO IT! Don’t immediately take offense or attack back. Just realize you have someone who is upset and there probably is a solution. Getting into an argument is never the solution and goes nowhere.

Change Location

If the client or patient is on the phone, and there are other patients of clients within earshot, ask the person to hold and if possible, take the call in a more private location. If the patient or client is in person, and there are others around, ask him politely to come with you so he can have your undivided attention and go to the consult room (office, lunchroom, etc.). This may not always be possible if you are the only person at the front desk. Do what you can on this point.

Really Find Out

Get a complete explanation so you can at least understand exactly what they are upset about. Do not be offensive or angry with them. Nor should you get defensive and start justifying why the practice is not at fault. That just adds fuel to the fire.


Be sure to truly let the person know that you have heard and understood what he have said. Assure him that you will work with him towards an agreement. This is a very important step. “I see what you are saying.” or “Now I understand. Okay, let’s work out what to do about this.”

Switch Sides

One example of a possible way of then handling the situation would be to flip it over to the patient and ask for their help, “If you were in my position, what would you suggest to resolve this situation?” The idea is to get the person focused on a solution instead of sitting in the problem. You are now on the same side and it will like resolve more amicably from there on.

One of our clients had a message from an irate patient who is a businessman who had gone nuclear about being charged a cancellation fee for failing to show up for an appointment. The doctor got the facts of what had happened before calling the patient. She then listened to him, she really found out what he was upset about, and she acknowledged him. She then asked him what he would do in such a situation, since he is a business person. His response was that he really understood the necessity for the cancellation fee and that he would probably do the same thing! Happy patient! As she had already found out before calling him that it was the first time he had ever missed an appointment, she then told him that and that she would cancel it this time. Even happier patient!


It should be policy in a practice that all pertinent data should be collected and given to the doctor about all such occurrences. This will help the practitioner decide if any further handling (than the one already done by the staff) would be required as a quality control check.

Sometimes changes in practice policy need to be made to prevent future instances of upset as well. Learn from these occurrences.

Back to Sunshine

Doing all of these steps usually results in a smoothly handled blip in your day and, with ruffled feathers smoothed down, you can resume your equilibrium, and have a good day after all.


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