A work colleague, many years ago, once said I should change my vocabulary and stop referring to some patients as bad patients; instead, I should refer to these individuals as being difficult patients. I had to disagree.
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Hi, I’m Tyson Franklin and welcome to the Podiatry Legends Podcast.
Today’s episode is a solo episode, which I am titling, The Difference Between Bad Patients & Difficult Patients…. And if you hang with me for the next ten minutes, you will see that there is a huge difference between bad and difficult.
I think it is important to give you some context – A work colleague, many years ago, once said I should change my vocabulary and stop referring to some patients as bad patients, and instead I should refer to these individuals as being difficult patients.
I said, okay, explain to me why bad patients should be referred to as difficult patients.
In their opinion, they felt that every patient, even the bad ones, was an opportunity for the business to learn and grow, regardless of the situation.
I said I totally understood their reasoning, but I had to disagree.
I then continued to explain my understanding of what I thought was the difference between a bad patient and a difficult patient, and when I finished my explanation, I was able to sway their thinking a little more my way.
So, let’s see if I can do the same with you on this podcast in a few short minutes.
First, let’s look at the word difficult.
When you google the word difficult, it says that something is difficult when it needs much effort or skill to accomplish, deal with, or understand.
To give you a life example: Learning to play golf, learning to surf or learning how to play the guitar are all difficult. They all need much more effort and skill to become proficient… and even harder to master.
However, all these activities have one thing in common: they are very rewarding once you’ve reached a certain level of proficiency and over time, you will continue to see constant improvement, which gives you even further satisfaction.
To me, the word difficult, when applied to patients, simply means the patient may be challenging and involves additional work, over and above what you would have normally expected, but in the end, all this additional work pays off, resulting in a benefit for you and the patient.
A difficult patient can, therefore, be a great opportunity for your business and everyone in your team to learn new skills and to grow as individuals and as an organisation.
Another positive outcome and this is a huge benefit… all your future patients will also benefit from what you have learnt.
Some difficulties, when overcome, can be career-defining moments.
In contrast, let’s look at the word bad.
What does bad mean? Google the word bad, and it says bad is of poor quality or a low standard.
For example, if an apple is bad, it’s bad, and you throw it away. You would never place a bad apple amongst your good apples because you know what will happen. As it rots, it affects the other apples, and before you know it, you have even more bad apples, and if you do nothing, all your apples are bad.
So, if a patient is bad and you do not refer them to another provider, it WILL affect you, your team and your other good patients.
Midway through 2023, I did an episode titled Six Ways to Identify Bad Patients (Episode 269), and I explained six surefire ways to identify bad patients; I suggest you go back and listen to that episode in full to get all the details, but here’s a quick overview of the six ways to identify bad patients.
- They complain about your fees.
- They are rude and have abrupt personalities.
- They always push for a discount.
- They ask for an account… or forget to bring money.
- If you give them an account, they pay late, and you must chase them for the money.
- They will complain and raise their voice at the most inopportune time, usually when there are other people around.
Here’s the good news. You’re going to find that most patients who visit your podiatry business will be nice people, easy to work with, and will make going to work enjoyable.
So, never let a few bad patients spoil your day, no matter how bad they are.
This is why it is important to surround yourself with a good team, good mentors and business advisors and why you need positive, uplifting friends in the profession.
Bad Customers Are Not Bad People
Don’t get me wrong; just because someone is a bad patient doesn’t mean they are a bad person; it simply means they are NOT A GOOD FIT for your podiatry business.
Difficult patients, on the other hand:
- Don’t complain about your fees
- They are never usually rude
- They don’t ask for accounts
- They do pay on the day
- And they never cause a scene.
So, what is a difficult patient?
A difficult patient may have a habit of arriving late, which throws out your schedule and is disruptive for you and your other patients.
Or, instead of returning for regular treatment every two months as you’ve suggested, they only attend once a year, meaning there is a lot more work for you, especially if it’s routine foot care.
Difficult patients are usually nice people, and it is up to you to address these problems as soon as you can.
Fix the Problem
Regardless of the issue, if you think you can fix the problem, you’re not dealing with a bad patient; you’re dealing with a difficult patient because you now have an opportunity to learn, grow and improve.
Talk with the patient, discuss the issue and let them know how their behaviour or poor time management affects your business, your team and other patients’ schedules.
Sometimes, patients just need to have the blinding obvious pointed out to them, and when you do point out the issue, they’re very apologetic and will work with you to find a solution.
You never know; maybe your communication skills, appointment schedule or confirmation process is the underlying problem, not the patient’s time management skills.
Work with Difficult Patients When You Can
This is why every podiatry business should review its systems and processes on a regular basis and continue to improve its communication skills.
As your business grows and evolves, your systems, processes and communication skills should also evolve; it’s part of running a successful business.
How you ran your podiatry business when it was turning over $40,000 per month should be different to when you’re doing $100,000 or more per month.
This is why team members move on as your business grows.
A team member in a $40,000 per month business needs to evolve to be the type of team member required in a business doing $100,000 per month, and if they cannot evolve, they will move on. Just like some of your patients, they no longer fit.
When I reflect back on my podiatry business and the revenue it was generating, the services we offered, and the type of patients we attracted, I realise it would never have been possible without evolving as a business owner.
The 2006 version of me could never have operated the 2016 version of my podiatry business.
It’s also important to remember that your patients (and also your team) should follow your systems; your systems should never follow your patients. You should never create a system or change a system just to suit one lazy patient (or one lazy team member). I’ve seen that happen in many podiatry businesses, and I can honestly say I made that mistake in the early days.
If you catch yourself making a change for one patient or one team member, you need to stop and ask yourself why you are doing it. If you keep doing it, you end up with multiple systems, and it gets confusing for new people joining your team.
Having Difficult patients, not bad patients will help you identify the changes that are required in your business and difficult patients will work with you, not against you, to help bring them to fruition.
Whereas your bad patients will work against you, never with you, and they will tell you outright what should be changed, and it’s always to their benefit, not yours. Bad patients tend to make a lot of noise and create disharmony.
It’s Your Business
In the end, you’re the business owner, and therefore, you get to make the final decision on whether a patient is a GOOD FIT for your business or not. You decide if they are bad and need to move on or if they are just difficult and need some guidance.
But even a difficult patient may need to be moved on to another provider if you cannot address ongoing issues and concerns, especially lateness, no matter how nice they are.
You owe it to yourself, your team and most importantly, your other patients.
And if you’re enjoying the Podiatry Legends Podcast, please consider leaving a rating and review on your favourite podcast platform. I honestly believe you get what you give, so if you give positive reviews, you will receive positive reviews.
As I said before, I’d like to wish you a happy new year. If you’re looking for some business guidance and want to evolve your business in 2024, please reach out to me.
I look forward to bringing you more amazing guests in 2024. In fact, next week’s episode is fantastic.
My guest is Dr Jeffrey Jensen; he is the Dean of the Arizona College of Podiatric Medicine in Glendale, Arizona.
It’s an episode not to miss.
Okay, that’s it for this week; I want you to look after yourself, look after your family, and I will talk to you again next week… bye for now.