Are Patients Angrier?

September 12, 2022
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A client recently bemoaned that she’s been seeing people “angrier” than normal. They’re more combative, demanding, and harder to deal with, she said. Could this be a trend?

Indeed, the headline in a recent report proves that her perception is correct!

“2 Nurses Assaulted Every Hour”

The report goes on to say; “more than 5,200 nursing personnel were assaulted in the second quarter of 2022.” That’s 57 assaults per day, right here in the USA.

And it’s not just in our hospitals but in the skies as well. The FAA reports that incidents of violence quadrupled in 2021.

People are stressed and they are acting out.

What can YOU as a practice owner do to defuse the situation and protect your employees?


Acknowledge the issue and provide support via training. I’ve said this for years. People coming into any dental practice, even its a Dental Sleep or TMJ only one, are under increased stress. Face it, the dental office does not enjoy the reputation as a ‘fun house’.

But today, whether it’s because of the Pandemic, Politics, Economics or Personal issues, people’s stress levels have risen to new heights.

Team members should be taught how to diffuse a situation, resolve conflict and deal with the NUTS; people who do Not Understand The Situation.

But understanding the patient’s situation is just what a team member must do. That takes empathy and above all, listening skills.

When people feel ignored, they become angrier. And the longer the situation drags on, the greater the level of ire.


Are your team members empowered to resolve problems? Or are they expected to find resolution through a chain of command that ends with YOU?

Do you and/or your team know the Lifetime Patient Value in your practice?

Knowing that number is important in setting a dollar amount a team member is empowered to spend to resolve a problem.

Let’s say that your LPV is $3,000. That means that one patient might spend $1,500 and refer another who spends $1,500, over the course of a 10-year relationship. That number is very low, as most dental piracies will have LPV’s over $5,000 using that same formula.

With an LPV of $3,000, is it reasonable to give team members permission to resolve a dispute by spending $300?

Granted, you might want to discourage the wanton use of such a ‘power’.

When a patient comes up to the front desk and complains that the temporary hygienist, they just saw did not provide the expected level of care, why not give permission for that front desk person to say; “I’m so sorry, this visit is on us. Let’s schedule your next one now, so you can see our regular hygienist.”

The longer it takes to resolve a negative issue, the bigger that issue will become.

And should it not be resolved, or worse, ignored, the result can be a negative REVIEW or a call to the State Dental Board or an attorney.


Here are some Conflict Resolution Strategies.

1. Listen: Listening occurs when one is silent and involves the eyes as well as the ears. Repeat their concern back so they know you heard it.
2. Empathy: Get on board with the patient. Make them feel that you’re feeling their pain.
3. Speak carefully: Plan and choose your words and speak using a low, compassionate tone.
4. Location Matters: Speak in an area that allows your patient to vent without fear that others will hear. There are conversations best not heard by others.
5. Know when to YIELD: Sometimes you cannot win. Knowing that and giving in can defuse the situation.
6. Never Go on the Offense: This isn’t personal, and you shouldn’t take offense and get defensive. Such posturing can escalate the situation.
7. Give the ‘benefit of doubt’: Remember that this is a human being with feelings and stressors that you might not understand.
8. Summarize next steps: Once a resolution has been reached, just repeat what’s going to happen.
9. Follow through: If you say you’re going to do something, DO IT. And do it sooner than later.
10. Keep Track: Note these incidents. An increase in complaints can be an opportunity to improve your service or the Patient Experience.

There are some “no-win” situations as well. Knowing these and being able to dismiss a patient in a non-abandonment manner should be part of team training. These are topics we regularly deal with in the Coffee With The Coach program. This program is geared for the entire team, so that they are hearing the same things you are, but from another source.

We have twice monthly webinars that are recorded and accessible to all members of the team. Many of our members use them along with the weekly Patient Experience Newsletters as part of their weekly team meetings.

The next Coach Coffee With The Coach Webinar will be on September 29th and the topic will be “TIME VAMPIRES; How are you being robbed of your most valuable asset?”

Hope to see you then.

To everyone’s excellent clarity and success,

P.S. Conflict resolution and customer service are skills that are valuable to every team member and hence to the Practice. Schedule a complimentary, 20-minute strategy session and get our FREE REPORT “PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ”, Customer service tips from the BEST.

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Dr. Michael Goldberg is one of the leading educators on dental practice management in the United States.

Michael ran and sold a prestigious group practice in Manhattan and has been on Faculty at Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian Medical Center for 30 years including Director of the GPR program and Director of the course on Practice Management.

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