Disarming the Disgruntled

It's every staff member's worst nightmare. You're having a peaceful, stress-free day at work and suddenly someone is standing in front of your desk, yelling at you for no apparent reason. How can you keep this from happening to you?

Keeping the peace

Addressing patients' concerns swiftly can prevent an embarrassing scene that could affect other patients and leave a bad impression. Good, basic patient communication skills and office procedures that can help you avoid disagreements include keeping a good attitude, dispensing accurate information and providing written instructions. To avoid appointment mix-ups, I always repeat specifics (day, date and time) back to the patient. If patients are placing a phone order, I confirm product information (number of boxes, color, which eye/s) before ending the call.

Best laid plans

Sometimes, however, no matter how hard you try, you're bound to encounter an irate patient. You can take control of a volatile situation with a few simple tips.


  • Ask the patient to speak with you privately where you won't disturb others.
  • Remain calm and show genuine concern about the problem.
  • Apologize for the situation, even if you're not at fault.
  • Include a supervisor or doctor in the discussion. Patients perceive they're being taken more seriously when someone in a higher management position becomes involved.

Whatever you do, don't:

  • Become angry or or argue with the patient.
  • Adopt a defensive stance. Your body language is very telling, so you should make an effort to maintain a relaxed posture.
  • Use condescending language or behave in a way that may insult the patient's intelligence.

Be a diplomat

Skillfully managing awkward situations can help you develop a loyal clientele. Patients appreciate that you're respectful, take time to hear their side of the story and willing to take steps to correct an error. Good customer service practices can help you maintain good relationships with existing patients and attract new ones through positive patient referrals.