How Should I Handle an Angry Patient?
Risk Management

How Should I Handle an Angry Patient?

Here are some tips to help D.C.s when they have an angry patient.


QUESTION: One of my patients is chronically angry. I’m not sure if he is just cranky or has real concerns about my practice. What should I do?

ANSWER: Most doctors feel that angry patients are among the ones they least want to deal with. These patients may or may not have a legitimate gripe, but it’s difficult to tell because they complain about everything. Your office hours aren’t convenient, the practice is too hot or cold, their health insurance didn’t pay, they’re not improving as quickly as they’d like. The list goes on.

They may be naturally angry, facing difficult times or unhappy with the care you provided. Regardless of the reason, you need to be careful because the patient’s anger may escalate to the point where it becomes more than a headache for you. Therefore, it’s essential to do what you can to help—or at least calm—these irate patients.

For example, if the patient is going through relationship problems, a referral to a mental health professional may be advisable. In the event of a financial problem exacerbated by chiropractic bills, a payment schedule may help.

The situation gets trickier when the patient has a concern about the treatment itself. Even if you’re confident you did nothing wrong, it can be helpful to follow up with care and concern. After a two-week cooling off period, you may wish to offer to go over the charts with the patient and explain the treatment you provided. This may be all the patient needs to feel comfortable with the situation and decide not to escalate it further.

Conversely, there may be times when the patient is simply too enraged to be reasoned with. In these cases, it’s critical to diffuse the situation to the best of your ability. Empathize with the patient, but don’t get drawn into the conflict. Instead, use reflective statements such as, “I understand you are upset about …”

If a situation escalates, it is advisable to take formal steps to terminate the doctor/patient relationship. Of course, if you sense a potential danger to you or your staff, remove yourself and staff members from harm’s way and ask for assistance from law enforcement.

The ability to neutralize a patient’s hostile behavior is an essential risk management skill for all Doctors of Chiropractic. It is also important to keep in mind the words of Daniel Webster who once said, “Keep cool; anger is not an argument.”


The information in the NCMIC Learning Center is offered solely for general information and educational purposes. It is not offered as, nor does it represent, legal or professional advice. Neither does this information constitute a guideline, practice parameter or standard of care. You should not act or rely upon this information without seeking the advice of an attorney familiar with the specific legal requirements of the state(s) in which you practice. If there is a discrepancy between the site and an insurance policy you have with NCMIC, the policy will prevail.