A Vacation From Difficult Patients

Episode 039

We all deal with difficult patients in our practices. At times we just need a break. This week I discuss my recent approach to dealing with a couple of difficult patients. Listen in to find out how.

More About This Show

On today’s episode I share two experiences I had recently had with difficult clients, as well as why it’s so important you schedule vacations regularly. To emphasize that point I recorded this episode live from the deck of my vacation spot in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. You may even hear thunderstorms and crickets in the background!

The first patient was an elderly woman. She wasn’t the difficult one, it was her caregiver. The elderly woman suffers from a number of health problems, including severe dementia and an intense fear of dental work. She was a referral from another dentist so naturally we requested she come in for a consultation with her caregiver, before we would do any work on her. That is when the problems arose.

Her caregiver was very upset and wanted my office to simply do the procedure in one visit. We explained repeatedly why it was important that we all meet and talk first; she and her elderly client would hear what the procedure would entail, what instructions they would need to follow, and we needed to know what medications she was on, etc.

Despite our attempts to help the caregiver understand our standard procedures and the safety reasons for them, she continued to be very agitated and upset.

To add to that experience, I had another difficult client the day before my vacation started. A 17-year old boy and his father came in for a wisdom teeth removal consult. His father began asking a series of detailed and specific questions. They were so specific that I asked if he was in healthcare. He said he wasn’t but his wife is.

So I suggested we call his wife since she couldn’t make it into the office to talk in person. We called and she seemed somewhat aggressive at the beginning. But I remained calm and professional, answering all of her questions ranging from licensing to anesthesia, etc.

By the end of the call she seemed less aggressive and more reasonable. After we finished, I asked if she had more questions and she said no. So I told the family I would send in my staff to explain the treatment plan, go over insurance, estimates and scheduling. Everyone agreed and I left, sending in my staff members to outline the details.

Later I ran into one of those staff members and she was visibly shaken. She explained the father had become very aggressive during the estimates and insurance conversation. He refused to pay upfront, which we require and wouldn’t agree unless he had exact quotes.

As I was talking with other staff members about this situation, another surgical assistant said she thought the situation sounded familiar. We dug in a bit more and it turns out the mom had already spoken with her; my surgical assistant remembered talking with a patient’s mom who was a nurse. The mom had peppered her with the same questions!

My marketing director walked past and overhead us at that time; she then recalled this mom also talking to her and scheduling the procedure. The reason my marketing director remembered was because the mom had a litany of questions.

At this point, I had an uneasy feeling about the entire situation. Although this patient had been referred by one of my top-tier referral sources who is also a great friend to me, I wasn’t certain whether or not I should keep the procedure on the schedule. It weighed on my mind the rest of the day and into the next morning.

So I asked a group of dentists in a private Facebook group I am in what they would do. It started a lengthy and healthy discussion, the consensus being to trust my instincts and take the patient off the schedule.

And that’s what I did: I called the mom and explained why I would be taking her son off the schedule. Naturally, she wasn’t happy but it didn’t go as badly as I thought it might! I also called my friend who referred to the patient and thanked him for his support and explained why I would be passing on this particular patient. He graciously understood.

The reason I share both of these experiences is to show you why it’s so important to take a vacation! Both of these clients came in the week before I was scheduled to leave and both hammered home to me how much I needed a break from the office.

Which is my for-action item for you this week: sit down and look at the next 6-12 months. When can you schedule a week away from your practice? Make sure it works for your spouse or significant other and then add it to your schedule. And be sure to plan what you’re going to do and where you’re going to go. You can even take it a step further and plan a second vacation while you’re at it!

Tweetable: Sometimes you’ve got to take the direct approach!

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