Focus on the Positive, NOT the Negative
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to sometimes get wrapped up spending more time thinking about that one disgruntled patient of the day, than the numerous happy and satisfied patients? Why is this? It could simply be that they are having a bad day; after all, we all have those. Perhaps the patient is going through a difficult time in their lives; who knows? However, sometimes a disgruntled patient is sometimes just unhappy - either with the world, or with their lives. Whatever the reason, in order to succeed and, for that matter survive in our profession, it is imperative to develop the skills to handle such patients in both a professional and healthy way.
When a patient responds to you in a negative way, try to remove your own emotions from the situation. Remember, most of the time, it's not you that they're mad at; you are simply on the receiving end. If the patient is justifiably upset, a respectful exchange is still a reasonable expectation. It's often best if such heated exchanges are handled by a manager; it's our job, as managers, to be on the receiving end, diffuse the situation, and turn the situation around.
If you are not in a management position and faced with having to deal with an upset, or irate patient, first, do your best to shield other patients from the conversation, perhaps by moving to an empty exam room, or a different part of the office. Then, listen to what the patient has to say. Try not to get defensive, even if their comments turn personal. Take deep breaths and try to stay calm. Listen to the facts, not the emotions. Let them get whatever is frustrating them off their chest. After they are finished, acknowledging their justified frustration goes a long way to diffusing it. Then, apologize for their frustration, and review their concerns with them. Obviously, if you have a reason to apologize for your own, personal actions, then do so, (making a mistake on their glasses, for example). Let them know that your company takes their concerns very seriously and inform them that you will be taking the matter to your manager who will be in touch to discuss the matter in greater depth. Thank them for showing you the courtesy of discussing their concerns with you and, based on your manager's schedule, give them an idea of when they should hear back. Hopefully, by this time, they should have cooled down somewhat; not always, however.
If faced with a patient who is treating you disrespectfully - yelling, cursing, throwing obscenities, and such - once again, try to remember to breathe deeply and stay calm. Don't get sucked in! Don't try and talk over the yelling, this only causes them to yell louder! At an appropriate break in their yelling, (when they stop to breathe), excuse yourself and get your manager involved, if available. If not, try the aforementioned techniques, and explain that you would like to do your best to resolve their frustrations, but would appreciate being able to have a mutually respectful discussion. NOTE: Your practice owner/manager will have their own policies on how they wish their employees to handle such situations. Obviously, always follow your company's policies. This approach is one of many, but is my tried and tested approach that I endorse and train my staff to utilize.
To summarize, don't let that one negative patient dominate your state of mind. Let the good prevail. Always provide the best service and eye care, and give all your patients the best possible experience, each and every visit to your office. Do your best to turn those unhappy patients around, and remedy the situation, but understand that sometimes resolving their unhappiness is beyond your control. That's in their hands.