4 tips for how radiologists should respond to angry patients

Sometimes, no matter how calm and collected a radiologist’s demeanor might be, a patient is going to get upset. 

Various infractions can set off a healthcare consumer at any time. The authors of a new commentary published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology spelled out some of the common triggers for irate patients and some possible ways to address this behavior. 

Those who experience this at their radiology practice may also expect to see distressed patients and providers, lower satisfaction scores and a damaged reputation. 

“To quell anger, it is important for radiologists to understand what such encounters look like, where they come from, and the steps they and other radiology personnel can take to nudge them in a more helpful direction,” wrote Erinn Cooke, MD, of the University of Florida College of Medicine, and Richard Gunderman, MD, PhD, of the Indiana University School of Medicine. 

The authors offered several possible causes for such incidents, including unexpected responses from a radiologist or the belief that a patient feels discriminated against. They also suggested four ways to quell a patient’s anger, many of which are interrelated:

1. Listen: This is often the best remedy for anger and requires that providers ignore the impulse to interrupt, deflect blame and explain themselves. Acknowledgement can go a long way, the authors added.

2. Remain present: Often, when a patient asks “Why is this happening to me?” they don’t want an answer, just confirmation that the healthcare provider is in the moment with them and empathizes with their plight. 

3. Step aside: Sometimes a situation requires the provider to cede power to the patient and let them relate things from their own view. 

“Very few patients expect the radiologist to wave a magic wand and make all problems go away,” the authors wrote. “Once concerns are voiced, anger often dissipates.” 

4. Practice: If any of this seems foreign or strange, there’s nothing wrong with doing a little role-playing to practice how to handle a sticky situation. 

“Although few radiologists relish an encounter with an angry patient, such interactions can be handled well or badly. By handling them as well as possible, we enrich patient care and deepen habits of equanimity, respect, and compassion,” Cookie and Gunderman concluded.