How to Win Over an Angry Patient


by Christine Cline-Dahlman, BFA, CPhT

How did you encounter angry patients over the past two years?

  • Is it through face-to-face conversations?
  • Could it be phone calls to your pharmacy?
  • What about through pharmacy emails?
  • How about through pharmacy website messaging systems?
  • Or maybe family members of a patient in a hospital?

If you have actively, continually worked in the pharmacy during the past two years . . .

  • You may not want to hear another voice who tells you to stay calm.
  • You may not want to hear another voice tell you that the patient is always right.
  • You may not want to hear another voice say that this stress is temporary.
  • You may not want to hear another voice tell you tomorrow is another day.

This has been a very tough past two years for pharmacy technicians, and we are tired of being told the same thing to assuage our emotional fatigue. 

On the one hand, we are the “face of pharmacy” for most patients, which means we are the first to hear and see angry patients. 

On the other hand, the professional care that we offer patients has been recognized at national levels to the point that our practice skills have been expanded into the advanced roles we seek. As pharmacy technicians, we expect to be respected and listened to.

This “push-pull pattern” creates stress within us, and that feeling comes across to our patients.  Anger then becomes a cycle from patient to us back to patient back to us . . . ultimately, if you deal with too much of this anger, you’ll burnout while on the job.

We have all seen the millions of social media posts from our peers expressing a range of emotional stress points, and we may have posted some ourselves.  While those platforms served as a “lended-ear” for us, an affirmation that we were not alone in our challenges, that our peers and we cared for our patients in ways that gave us a profound response to their gratitude that tears flowed from our eyes without control.

We have helped our patients, as angry as they may have been, through a most challenging and frightful time. We were often a voice to patients that gave a moment of hope, peace, and assurance. Enough to get them some sleep at night, to let them awake to another day of life.

We must always start our days with the priority of excellent patient care, in all aspects.

The driving focus in pharmacy is patient care. All practice decisions, directives, procedures, protocol, regulation, legislative action, and pharmacy technician education is based on patient care standards. If we can adopt this attitude toward patient care as our priority and keep it as our daily reference point, we have taken the first step in managing our anger at an angry patient.

When anger comes forth, it is most often a cry for help. The communication tool motivational interviewing is designed to have a conversation with patients to hear what they are saying between the words they are using. My everyday term is “chit chat with purpose.” 

Do you think of this tool only for your medication adherence calls? Could you begin to use the elements of this tool to figure out what the patient needs – beyond the anger they may be showing? Let this type of conversation become second nature to you while working.

Unfortunately, I am a voice that repeats the traditional directive to manage an angry patient.

Below are a few points to keep in mind to manage an angry patient:

  • Recognize that anger is most often a cry for help.
  • Never, never take the anger they express as personal. Think of yourself as their “lended-ear.”
  • Calm yourself and breathe. Place a small smile on your lips and voice when you speak.
  • Use words and body language to reassure them that you will try to help.
  • Engage in a straightforward task that shows you will help them rather than just passing them off to someone else.
  • Use your motivational interviewing skills to identify the true source of the anger and how you can help.

The basics of human behavior do not change. The anger that comes from another person, and the emotion that we experience when it hits us straight. The methods and tools we use to manage an angry patient will remain the same.

Please let me be a voice that says, “well done,” as you encountered those frightened, angry patients during the past two years. During this most challenging time, pharmacy technicians actually increased their skill set in clinical tasks, engaged more actively with patients due to new regulations, and now see a future in their profession that was not visible before.

By expanding your professional skills, you have gained new skills to manage the angry patient and move professionally forward

Always remember that you control your response to a negative encounter, and the negative encounter should not control you.