6 Steps for Conquering Patient Conflict

By Cheryl Bisera  |  January 27, 2015

Download Patient Engagement Guide NowEver overhear an angry interaction while waiting in line to purchase something? You can’t help but listen and begin to form an opinion as you watch an employee handle an increasingly agitated customer. When upset patients voice their grievances, your staff aren’t always the only ones listening. Whether or not staff are capable of maintaining a professional, patient-centered approach to patient conflict resolution is going to have an impact on how others view your practice, patient retention, and practice growth.

The art of smoothly diffusing rising emotions while guiding an upset patient to a resolution is truly something to be learned. Some people are natural at customer service, and they can really develop their gift and train others. Those who get flustered, impatient, and reply with sharp or unaccommodating language can really cripple your practice. For that reason, it’s imperative you choose patient-interfacing staff who fully embrace your values and can communicate with patients in a way that diffuses frustration and brings a potentially toxic situation around to a resolution.

To better understand conflict resolution in the medical practice, we must unpack the how and why. In any situation where humans are interacting, you will eventually have conflict, and here are a few reasons why:

  • Differing needs and objectives: One scenario that demonstrates this is when staff are pushing to get back on schedule and a patient is feeling a need to connect via more time with the practitioner.
  • Fear or a loss of control: When someone feels threatened, be it by a scary diagnosis, a potentially high healthcare bill, or a lack of control over their healthcare, they will become more agitated and possibly hostile.
  • Misconceptions: For example, it’s easy to assume patients understand what’s going on and that you are trying to help them get through the system, but often they only see you focusing on tasks and could interpret this as uncaring.

So how do we deal with these obstacles we have no control over? With techniques that empower staff and assure patients. After all, conflict isn’t necessarily bad. When handled properly, conflict can bring about stronger clinic-patient relationships by building trust. Not only that, but when you’re willing to dedicate your resources, creative solutions and improvements are born from complaints and conflicts that are communicated well and taken seriously.

Do you have protocols in place for staying on top of complaints? Are staff displaying an understanding of techniques that bring patients to a satisfying outcome after a complaint is voiced?

Here’s a mini conflict resolution checklist to help you assess where you may need to improve. Tweet this Kareo story These keys to conflict resolution must be understood and embraced by your entire staff but in particular those who interface most with patients on the front line. When your perspective is positive and your approach pro-active, conflict can be a catalyst to becoming a leader among practices!

For more strategies on engaging patient, download this guide, 10 Powerful ways to Engage Patients.

  1. Have a formal dispute resolution process: In this formal policy things will be determined such as: who is the go-to person, how do we hold staff accountable, how are disputes documented and followed up on, and how do we monitor progress and be sure we reach ultimate outcomes.
  2. Acknowledgement of the problem: When in the throes of a conflict or dispute, the first thing a staff member needs to do is assure the patient they’ve been heard and are being taken seriously. Paraphrasing a complaint back to the patient and letting them know next steps is crucial.
  3. Dig deeper: Staff need to understand that placing blame is not important, resolution is. The best way to reach a good, logical solution is to gather all the facts. This means listening to everyone without intent, clarifying, and then evaluating the options. This might take a little extra time, but not doing so can result in a far worse consequence.
  4. Resist the temptation to react: It’s important that staff and managers alike respect all parties involved by keep healthy boundaries such as not tolerating personal attacks and keeping language respectful. Focus on the causes and the solutions, not the symptoms and blame.
  5. Accept responsibility: The best part of conflict is the resolution, when both parties can agree on a solution. Accepting responsibility and acknowledging any inconvenience or frustration a patient has experienced is an excellent way to encourage compromise.
  6. Move forward in strength: After a healthy negotiation and resolution, honor the outcome, measure and monitor trends whenever possible to determine if a bigger change is necessary, and keep accountability in place.

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