Angry Doctor

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

"Managing the Angry Patient"

Came across this article from a Pharmacist Journal that is too long to reproduce fully.

Here's an exerpt:

Appropriate Expression of Anger

Now that you understand something more about anger, let’s discuss how to appropriately manage angry patients. Let’s also set a few ground rules. First, it must be understood that once you decide to practice pharmacy, you also make the decision to serve people. As such, you enter into a nonreciprocal relationship with your patients. Essentially, when patients become angry and yell at you, you and all others who work in this professional environment lose their right to yell back. You don’t lose your right to self-respect, just your right to yell back.

Second, for pharmacists to operate effectively as professionals, "the patient is always right" policy must be abolished. First of all, the patient is not always right. If the patient were always right, then every time Mr. Brown comes in and says he was shorted 5 tablets that cost the pharmacy $3 each, the pharmacist should give them to him even knowing that she double-counted them for accuracy. I have heard people in upper management who espouse "the patient is always right policy" say they want the pharmacist to use professional discretion in Mr. Brown’s case. But you can’t have it both ways. You either empower your pharmacists to make reasonable decisions or you give Mr. Brown his five tablets. "The patient is always right" is a policy that puts the pharmacist in "no man’s land" with irrational, abusive patients. It can be disempowering and humiliating.

We need to replace "the patient is always right" with "the patient deserves respect".This is worthy of some discussion. Even if patients behave in ways that are not generally acceptable, they deserve to be treated with respect. In other words, respect for people does not depend on accomplishments and is not diminished by bad behavior. As alluded to in an article by Reich, we owe people respect because disrespecting humans disrespects that which created us. We certainly don’t have to like people’s bad behavior or put up with it, but their bad behavior does not give us permission to be disrespectful. However, pharmacists do not deserve to be disrespected either. So, how can we respond to angry, abusive or disrespectful patients without being disrespectful in return? The process involves listening, empathy, respect for others, respect for self, ability to remain separate from others, and assertive communication.

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