“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
I discovered Ben Franklin coined this timeless phrase back in 1736 to remind Philadelphia citizens to remain vigilant about fire awareness and prevention.
This advice works just as well today in our own industry.
A little precaution BEFORE a problem occurs is preferable to a lot of fixing it afterward.
As a cosmetic surgeon, you get all the risks when dealing with a cosmetic patient. You hope/believe the prospective patient is hearing you when you say:
“I can’t make it perfect, but I can make it a lot better.”
The good news is most consumers make for great cosmetic patients. They have done a lot of research online and read/watch/heard about the good, the bad, and the ugly.
They are friendly, reasonable, and realistic.
But the few patients who aren’t can wreak havoc with your reputation and mental health.
Plan Ahead to Prevent Problem Patients
What can trip you up are your own emotions during the consultation process. The two major ones being ego and greed.
It can be difficult to say no to prospective patients who want to give you money. That’s completely understandable.
Same thing with your ego. It’s so much easier during the consultation process to ignore your gut telling you to beware than to say no.
When interviewing surgeons about problem patients, they repeatedly say, “I knew there were red flags, but I thought I could manage them.”
Most of the time you can, but why not set up a process to help you stay out of these sticky situations that come back to haunt you later?
I recommend you get together with your team and review what you have discovered from experiencing problem patients. Looking back, what were the warning signs?
Then develop your own pre-surgical red flags checklist.
Below is an example to give you a good start:
Red Flags Checklist Prevents Problem Patients
- Their significant other makes the appointments and schedules the surgery,
rather than the patient doing it herself.
- Rude to staff
- Bad-talking other surgeons
- Over dramatic
- Too emotional / Too unemotional
- Does not understand the procedure
- Repetitive behaviors
- On meds (Call their psychiatrist)
- Won’t take photos
- Won’t sign consent forms
- Vague about post-operative support
- Your staff has reservations.
- You just don’t like the patient.
Make it protocol for you and your staff to go over this checklist during the consultation process.
If you can check any of these boxes – BEWARE!
Post-Op Problem Patients
However, you can still end up with a post-op patient who is not happy. It happens.
What’s most important is what you do about it that makes all the difference in how it plays out.
So rather than wing it when it happens and emotions are high, set up guidelines now to deal with it in a rational way.
Here are steps to help you work with and prevent problem patients:
You can’t solve a problem you don’t know you have, and you can’t assume anything. That’s why listening is critical.
Give the patient your undivided attention. Use their name and eye contact. Don’t rush.
Listen to a patient’s complaints without interrupting. Sometimes, the patient just wants to be heard and understood. Then repeat back what they said to ensure you are both on the same page. This alone could diffuse them.
It will also help you determine if this is a real issue or just a complaint the patient wants to share with you, get off their chest and move on.
Avoid this temptation to be defensive. Don’t make excuses, don’t qualify, and don’t disparage a patient for speaking their mind. Just listen and learn.
Offer a sincere apology for how they feel. Not for any wrongdoing on your part, but you are sorry they are not happy.
Be curious and probe deeper with questions to figure out how serious the situation is. For example, “Karen, what’s prompting this? Did someone say something to you?”
You are looking for the WHY they feel the way they do. Maybe they went back online to research their concerns and got themselves worked up from other patient stories.
You just don’t know unless you ask.
Another great question to ask to figure out where the patient’s head is at is, “Karen if you were me, what would you do?”
This puts the patient in your shoes. They may surprise you and have a simple request that would satisfy them.
Again, you just don’t know unless you ask.
Make it right! Don’t just promise to make it right, actually take a proactive step in the right direction.
Offer solutions such as cortisone shots, lymphatic massage, a touch-up in the office, comp your fees, or discount OR fees to go back into surgery. Then thank them for being reasonable and working with you to rectify the situation.
Oftentimes, you can turn this problem patient into a raving fan by handling the situation with composure, assurance, and poise.