Patient Experience Tips
"When you have an angry patient, 
respond with empathy."

 

Imagine this scenario, which could occur in either the hospital or clinic: Your patient, Ms. Johnson, is quite ill. Her daughter flew in from out of town to bring her to the doctor, and she is  desperately waiting to hear what you have to say. As usual, it's a busy morning so you are running behind. When you finally enter the room, her daughter let's you have it.

Finally, you're here! How could you keep us waiting for so long? My mother is sick and you took your sweet time coming in to see her! How could you be so thoughtless?

What can you do to address her concerns with empathy?

I want to share 3 great suggestions from my course with you:

1. Listen - our tendency is to interrupt and defend ourselves, but in these situations, taking time to truly listen without interruption goes a long way. While listening, actively use expressions to show that you are tuned in. 
- "Hmmm"
- "I see"
- "Uh huh"
- "Go on" 

2. Name the feeling - one of the first things we can do is name the feeling that our patients and family members are expressing. Some great phrases to use are:
- "It sounds like..."
- "What I'm hearing you say is..."
- "What you're telling me is..."
- "I can tell that you're [emotion person is expressing]" 

3. Imaginative empathy - this refers to us imagining what someone else is going through from their perspective. In my course, they taught us never to say, "I know what you're going through" or "I understand what you're going through". This is disingenuous because you don't fully know or understand. Instead, use imaginative empathy phrases.
- "I can imagine what this must feel like..."
- "I can imagine how scary this is for you"
- "I can imagine how frustrated this experience has been"

Knowing this, how can you respond to Ms. Johnson's daughter?

After listening to her concerns, you could say something like this. I'm so sorry to keep you waiting. I can tell that you are frustrated. It sounds like your mom has been ill for several days and it's been very scary for you, especially since you've been trying to take care of her despite living in another state and having a family of your own. I can only imagine how stressful this is.

Granted, her daughter may still have some residual anger/frustration, but you have definitely made more progress with this approach than if you had responded angrily or defensively. To be honest, I've used this approach many times before, and even though the patient/family may have been angry when I initially walked in, they are incredibly thankful and grateful for my care by the time I leave.

That's it for this week. I hope this helps, and next time, I'll give you a few more tips that I learned in my course for responding with empathy.

Take care,
Trina

 

 

 

Thanks to everyone who came out to support me during my talk at the  Cleveland Clinic Patient Experience: Empathy + Innovation Summit. It was such an honor to present at the conference, and I hope you learned something new.

 

 

Do you want to improve your patient experience? If so, your wait is over.Physician's Guide to Surviving CGCAHPS & HCAHPS and CGCAHPS & HCAHPS Breakthrough are two great books for anyone looking to improve their patient experience!

Thank you to everyone who has already bought a copy! I appreciate your support, and I sincerely hope my books have helped you improve your patient experience.

 

 

Click HERE for Physician's Guide to Surviving CGCAHPS & HCAHPS

 

Click HERE for CGCAHPS & HCAHPS Breakthrough

 

Want to subscribe to my newsletter?
 http://www.drtrinadorrah.com/subscribe.html

 

 


Comments

09/08/2015 12:45pm

Maybe the nursing staff did not pay you as much attention because you're known to them for keep contacting the ambulance and going into the medical center when you should be seeing your physician.

Reply
07/27/2016 5:02pm

I think the article is composed fairly well. The author even added a case scenario so as to help the readers understand his point better. It is good that he has provided these tips when dealing with angry patients. I think that being empathetic to others is applicable even in other circumstances. We never know what these people we encounter are going through with their lives. The least we could do is be understanding, and help as much as we can.

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I am also a doctor and can understand all of the tips that is available here and these are helpful for my practice. I always show empathy to the angry patients and treats them with love and care.

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    Author

    Trina E. Dorrah, MD, MPH, is a board-certified internal medicine physician who practices at Baylor Scott & White Health in Round Rock, TX. In addition to her clinical work, Dr. Dorrah is the medical director of quality and the physician champion for the patient experience. Dr. Dorrah is passionate about improving the patient experience and she loves to share her expertise with others. 


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