Don’t Let Miserable
Patients Make
You Miserable

From the moment some patients arrive in your office, nothing seems to suit them:

  • Your parking lot charges too much.
  • Your Front Desk staff has too many forms for them to complete.
  • Your waiting room magazines are too old.
  • The temperature in your exam room is too cold.

(Of course, we all know that the gripes above are totally and completely within your control, and all are your fault–Not!)

So why are some patients so grumpy?

I believe many patients come to us with a wall of fear around themselves. They are worried about the outcome of their visit. They are anxious that whatever they are seeing us about may be serious or life threatening.

Their attitude is their shield of protection from what they perceive as danger.

After you allay their fears and map out a treatment plan to help them, these people transform into some of your best patients, ever.

You know the ones I mean. These are the patients who bring in brownies on their next visit, with a note apologizing for their previous grumpiness.

There are, however, other types of grumpy patients; the ones who cannot be placated. We’ve all had patients who were BTBM: Born To Be Miserable

BTBMs are never happy, no matter what you do. Free parking card? Updated magazine? Light blanket while waiting in the chilly office?

No matter. They are still grumpy.

Sometimes, you are able to slowly, painstakingly chip away at the iceberg that surrounds them, one visit at a time. And, after six months, you no longer need to pull out a blowtorch to melt the icicles.

Other times, you get lucky and you get a BTBM patient who has a short-term medical concern. You are able to treat them quickly, despite their grumpiness. Fortunately, they are soon on their way.

Then, there are those other times.

You know the ones I mean: When the BTBM patient needs extensive treatment or a surgical procedure.

They express their doubts at your ability to help them with a chip on their shoulder the size of Texas.

When I’m faced with a BTBM patient I know will never be happy, I pull out my Magic Phrase: “I can see you are uncomfortable, and that makes me uncomfortable. Therefore, I recommend you see Dr. X for further evaluation and treatment. I will be available to you for the next 30 days for any emergencies. My assistant will give you Dr. X’s information.”

Write it down.

You will be glad you have it handy one day when you are standing face to face with a BTBM of your own.

You will never, I repeat never, regret helping a patient find a more suitable doctor for his or her needs.

However, I promise you that you will always regret pushing forward when your instincts tell you to let them go.

Medicine isn’t about pleasing all of the people all the time.

It’s about caring for the people you can truly help.

That includes yourself.

CATEGORIES: Blog on June 9, 2014 by Starla Fitch, M.D.

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5 thoughts on “Don’t Let Miserable
Patients Make
You Miserable

  1. Julieta

    As always Starla, this is a GREAT post. I love to read you every Monday.
    One quick question, how do you know which doctor can serve this patient better? I have found that sometimes I send my patient to another doctor, and this doctor calls me with the question: What where you thinking?. Any advice?

    1. Starla Fitch, M.D. Post author

      Thanks for your sweet comments! And, I totally feel your pain when it comes to finding a doctor who may be able to serve your patient better. It does take some thought and effort. Sometimes, there is a diagnostic problem that needs a fresh eye. Sometimes, it can be a question of a different surgical technique. Other times, it’s a mindset issue. Those are the most challenging. I try to take ego out of the equation (always a toughie!) and think about the best doctor for this patient. And, I find sending a thorough letter to the new doctor serves the patient well, and may shed some light on the issues for the new doctor. There’s never a right or wrong answer on this. Follow your instincts. Hope this helps!

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