2011 Annual Meeting Preview: The Real Cost of Angry Patients

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By Leslie Farnsworth

August 2011–Patient dissatisfaction is a recurring issue for radiology administration and care providers. Is it part of the nature of providing imaging services that there will be unhappy patients? Are angry patients just a fact of life?

During the planning phases for the 2011 AHRA Annual Meeting, FrogDog and the AHRA conference administrators decided to survey AHRA membership and the radiology community at large about issues relating to patient anger, from why patients get angry, to what they do when they’re angry, to what practices currently do to assuage patient anger.

We received 83 total responses in Spring 2011. (Note: Respondents were allowed to choose multiple answers to each question, and were also allowed to write in responses.)

The research results highlighted areas of significant improvement. No, you can’t eliminate every angry patient. However, there are proven ways to prevent patient anger in many cases and, in others, significantly reduce the severity of ensuing problems.

But first, the research results:

Angry Patients Waste Time
Time is money. And angry patients waste a lot of it.

Of all options given, a preponderance of survey respondents said that angry patients cause disruption among other patients and with facility staff (33.33%). In addition, many said that angry patients escalate the problem as far up the practice or department food chain as possible, taking their complaints to senior administrators and other supervisory bodies (36.46%).

Angry Patients Waste Funds
Most respondents said that angry patients still pay their bills, despite disgruntlement. That doesn’t mean the wasted cost of an angry patient is just time, however. The hard cost of angry patients is the amount of concessions offered to calm them down.

Although many respondents apologize for the problem (nearly 28%) and explain what happened (26.5%), almost 40% offer some sort of concession, ranging from free parking to free meals.

These concessions add up. And when combined with the cost of wasted staff time . . . ouch.

But Why Are They Angry?
What causes the problem in the first place? Why are so many patients so angry?

There was resounding agreement in the response: confusion. A solid 50% of respondents said that patients are angry because they are confused—or were confused at some point in their interactions with the department or practice.

The next closest reason for anger was wait time, but it was a significant drop-off in prevalence: Only 21.25% of respondents said that wait times are a reason for patient anger.

Frustration All Around—And It’s Not Necessary
These results indicate that there are better ways to handle angry patients—and that there are clear ways to prevent them in the first place. The amount of anger that imaging department and facility staff encounter from patients is unnecessary. Changing communications practices and training staff on simple and proven communications techniques can make a world of difference. Because it doesn’t have to be this way.

How? Find out by attending the upcoming AHRA 39th Annual Meeting & Exposition in Dallas, TX. My presentation, “Effectively Handling (and Possibly Preventing) Angry Patient Situations,” will be on Sunday, August 14, from 4:30 pm-5:30 pm. See you there!


Leslie Farnsworth is CEO of FrogDog, a strategic marketing and communications firm in Houston, TX. She is a speaker at the 2011 AHRA Annual Meeting and Exposition, and can be reached at Leslie@frog-dog.com.

One comment

  1. Instead of looking at time spent dealing with disgruntled patients as “wasted”, it might be more productive to spend some resources in trying to figure out why they are upset. Are they confused because communications were poor, are they upset because they waited until 11 AM for a 9 AM appointment (while being held NPO), or are they just upset because the department was so overbooked that they had to stand for an hour in the waiting area because there were no empty seats?

    Perhaps the definition of dealing with patient issues should be renamed, from “wasted time” to “customer service”.

    And the real cost is easily measured by looking at your malpractice insurance rates and your litigation costs, because the “angry” patients final ultimate recourse is a malpractice suit.

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