Since one of my partners left the group a few months ago, I’ve inherited a few patients that are quite…set in their ways. On the one hand, I can understand that patients who have grown comfortable with the same doctor for the past 10+ years can be reluctant to take a new physician’s advice, but I also feel that as a young physician trying to establish my own practice, I have to be firm about the issues that I feel strongly about clinically or ethically.
The other afternoon, I was meeting one of these patients for the first time. During our 30 minutes together, she spent 90% of the time informing me things that she would be unwilling to try because “it wasn’t the way that Dr. R did things”. At first I tried to work with her, to try to find some kind of middle ground and to listen to her reasoning, however the more she incessantly went on and on about how Dr. R used to do things, I could feel myself feeling more and more irritated.
The final straw came when she told me that the prescription that I handed to her was written inaccurately because “Dr. R used to give her 2 refills, not 1 refill”. I took a deep breath, looked her in the eye, and said, “Yes, but I am not Dr. R. This is the way that I do things.”
She flippantly replied, “Well, if you don’t do it this way, I will go find another doctor.” I nodded and agreed, “Yes, I think that would be a good idea.”
She became silent. Then she gave me sheepish smile and said, “Ok, fine. I will try it your way. It was nice to meet you. So I’ll make another appointment for 3 months? ”
I think the patient made a snap judgment when I initially entered the room and saw me a young timid Asian girl who she could boss around. I consider myself a rather non-confrontational person, so it really took a lot for me to say what I said. Plus, whenever I have an argument with a patient, it really gets me quite agitated and ruins my day. Even though I never raised my voice and tried to not let my irritation show, I felt really shaken by the fact that I had to be so stern with this patient. In the end, I’m glad that I stood my ground and did things my way.
I’m curious how others have dealt with this situation. If my schedule is already overflowing with patients waiting to be seen, and a stubborn rude patient wants to push my limits, how do I tell them that they are being inappropriate? How do I set boundaries without offending a patient? Or perhaps, let’s be honest, who wants to have these “bullies” as patients anyways?