Various problems can occur during encounters between health providers and patients. In some instances, clinicians attribute these problems to patients being “difficult.” However, clinicians’ perception of difficulties in the clinical encounter are also influenced by: clinicians’ own attitudes, thoughts, and behavior; the specific setting in which patient and clinician interact; and properties of the healthcare organization in which they are embedded. This article explores how psychologists in medical settings can serve as a resource that: improves patient care for difficult patients; supports provider wellness; provides relevant education to clinical providers; and reduces the stress that difficult patients place on the healthcare system. The definition, scope, and impact of difficult patients in healthcare settings are reviewed, including an examination of patient, clinician, and systems factors that contribute to the etiology of difficult clinical encounters. Strategies are discussed that may prevent or limit the adverse impact of difficult patients in healthcare, with special emphasis on the roles of psychologists in interprofessional healthcare teams.
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Conflict of interest
William N. Robiner and Megan L. Petrik declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent
This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.
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Robiner, W.N., Petrik, M.L. Managing Difficult Patients: Roles of Psychologists in the Age of Interdisciplinary Care. J Clin Psychol Med Settings 24, 27–36 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10880-017-9490-2
- Difficult patient
- Difficult clinical encounter
- Interprofessional practice
- Team-based care