Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Course Description:

Difficult patients take many forms.  While some patients may make a scene in the office, become verbally abusive and a few even make threats against staff, these tend to be rare situations.  The majority of patients considered difficult are those who have unmet expectations, often unexpressed.  Unmet expectations can result from both unrealistic expectations on the part of the patient as well as a failure of the physician or staff to follow through as promised.  Unmet expectations invariably result in patient dissatisfaction and enhance the risk for poor patient outcomes, and patients with poor outcomes are more likely to pursue litigation.

Staff working in a medical office are required to work closely together and generally juggle multiple tasks while supporting the physicians for whom they work and the patients they serve.  Different ways of accomplishing tasks, personal motivations and personal styles can give the appearance particular employees are either overly demanding, too rigid or simply do not care.  This can lead to problems among staff and the perception that certain employees are difficult.  Generally, this perception is rooted in misunderstanding, either of the employee, the other person's job or both.  When employees are not able to resolve their differences in a collaborative manner, mistakes and burnout are the consequences.  This can lead to higher turnover which increases practice costs, decreases efficiency and creates the potential for patient care related mistakes as well.

Dealing with both difficult patients and coworkers requires an understanding of the motivating factors behind the behavior.  It also requires a willingness to break through those barriers in an understanding, compassionate and direct manner.  If done right staff can develop positive relationships with both patients and their coworkers.  This results in higher patient and job satisfaction while decreasing the associated patient risk and employee burnout.

This seminar will focus on difficult patient and staff situations, including demanding and dependent patients as well as communication issues among staff.  The seminar also features a light hearted look at confidentiality, reminding us how a simple slip can quickly get out of control.  This is an interactive and entertaining workshop in which video vignettes specific to the medical office setting will be discussed and analyzed.


Upon completion of this program, attendees should be able to:

  1. Recognize common types and warning signs of difficult patients and coworkers;
  2. Understand how difficult behaviors place the practice and patients at risk; and
  3. Implement strategies to address common risk issues.

Speaker:  Stephen Dickens, JD

Stephen Dickens is a Risk Management Specialist at SVMIC. In this role, he works with physicians and their staff concerning areas of risk and practice operations. He has spent more than 20 years in a variety of healthcare leadership roles including medical group, hospital and home care administration. In addition to his role at SVMIC, he has served as Chair of the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), past president of the MGMA Financial Management Society, Tennessee MGMA and Tennessee Association for Home Care. In addition, he is a Board Certified Medical Practice Executive and Fellow in the American College of Medical Practice Executives.

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