Difficult Clinical Encounter


Difficult Clinical Encounter, Difficult Patient Visit, Difficult Patient Encounter, Difficult Physician-Patient Encounter

  • Risk Factors
  • Medical Provider
  1. Interpersonal Factors
    1. Communication barriers (e.g. language, raport)
    2. Expectation mismatch (e.g. patient expectations for encounter)
    3. Patient lacks trust in the provider
    4. Provider biases (e.g. medical conditions such as Chemical Dependency)
  2. Situational Factors affecting medical provider
    1. Provider lacks training or is insecure about their knowledge
    2. Provider physical or mental health or wellness (e.g. sleep deprivation)
      1. May affect patience, empathy and resilience under pressure
  3. Systemic Factors
    1. Inadequate time for patient care
      1. Compounded by documentation requirements and lack of support resources
    2. Social Determinants of Health (e.g. poverty)
    3. Health Disparities and socioeconomic disadvantages secondary to structural racism
    4. Moral Injury
      1. Knowing what a patient needs, but constraints and barriers are beyond medical provider control
      2. Misinformation and medical mistrust (e.g. Covid19 epidemic) broke the provider-patient relationship
  • Risk Factors
  • Patient
  1. Excessive Worry
  2. Bipolar Disorder
  3. Somatization
  4. Chronic Pain Syndrome
  5. Multiple presenting complaints at each visit (esp. complex problems and vague complaints)
  6. Patient angry, demanding or manipulative
  7. Drug-seeking behavior or Chemical Dependency
  8. Personality Disorder (e.g. Borderline Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality disorder)
  9. Noncompliance with recommended therapy due to factors within their control
  • Management
  • General
  1. See Patient Communication
  2. See Conflict Resolution
  3. See Motivational Interviewing
  4. Recognize negative, counter-productive emotions
    1. See CALMER Approach to Difficult Clinical Encounters
    2. See Tame It Mindfulness Tool
    3. Pause for 10 seconds to allow for calming, deep breathing, centering
    4. If needed, excuse yourself and return to the room after a cool down period
  5. Communication
    1. Focus on the patient's situation, instead of the person
    2. Be aware of triggering language
      1. Avoid phrases that leave a patient without choices (e.g. "you must")
      2. If apologizing, avoid following the apology with "..., but...", which negates the apology
    3. Listen and allow patient to speak uninterrupted, and try to understand the patient's situation
      1. Acknowledge a patient's symptoms and experiences
      2. Name and validate the emotion you sense the patient is feeling
    4. Problem solve with the patient
      1. Find common ground and Shared Decision Making
      2. Negotiate the agenda for evaluation and treatment priorities
      3. Differentiate symptoms from structureal diseases (not all symptoms need extensive workups)
      4. Discuss ways to prevent similar difficult encounters in the future
  • Management
  • Dependent and insecure patient
  1. Signs
    1. Patient praises provider and requires increasing time and needs from the provider
  2. Provider Approach
    1. Establish and maintain professional boundaries
    2. Schedule regular appointments, and reassure patient of continued care
    3. Encourage patients active involvement in decision making and medical plan
  • Management
  • Entitled and demanding patient
  1. Signs
    1. Patient bypasses standard medical protocols, assumes special medical access and angry when not catered to
  2. Provider Approach
    1. Address specific emotions and their underlying causes (e.g. acute illness, serious comorbidity, pscyhosocial stressors)
    2. Assure the patient of sound medical care
    3. Discourage mis-directed anger
  • Management
  • Manipulative patient who rejects help
  1. Signs
    1. Recurrent presentations for potentially serious symptoms, yet refuses or non-compliant with recommended approach
  2. Provider Approach
    1. Refocus attention
      1. Patient to provider connection
      2. Symptomatic relief over medical cure
    2. Set reasonable expectations that patient is willing to pursue
      1. Informed Consent when this is likely to result in worse outcomes
  • Management
  • Self-destructive patient with sense of hopelessness
  1. Signs
    1. Despite maximal management, patient continues self-destructive behaviors, and health problems progress
  2. Provider Approach
    1. Manage underlying Mood Disorder (Major Depression or Anxiety Disorder)
    2. Address specific underlying causes (e.g. limited funds or medical system access)
    3. Establish reasonable goals and congratulate patients when progress is made
  • Prevention
  1. See Patient Communication
  2. See Emergency Department Patient Satisfaction
  3. See Risk Management
  4. Medical setting modifications that can reduce patient stress
    1. Provide a comfortable environment (e.g. seating, Temperature, calming music)
    2. Provide an easy check-in process
    3. Communicate delays
    4. Positive, caring, kind staff interaction (e.g. front desk) builds patient trust and diffuses frustration