The 5 Rules of De-escalation Training


Resolve issues, reconcile patient relationships, and preserve the patient experience.

The job of a patient financial services (PFS) employee is anything but easy. On a daily basis, revenue and billing service representatives encounter questions, confusion, frustration, and sometimes flat-out anger from patients in regard to their medical bills. And it’s the responsibility of these PFS team members to provide excellent service through it all. The success of the healthcare revenue cycle depends, in large part, on the quality of the patient experience they provide.

Service excellence is the end goal of most PFS departments, but we all know that not everything can go right every time. That’s why an effective de-escalation training program is so important for today’s revenue teams.

With these five go-to rules of de-escalation, you can equip your PFS employees to not just resolve issues, but also to reconcile relationships that are integral to a positive patient experience.

Rule #1: Listen

Oftentimes, escalated patients simply want to be heard. They are likely yelling or raising their voice because they feel they have not been heard in the past and they are frustrated. So let them vent. Use this time to gather information about their issue. And most importantly, do not jump in, interrupt, or try to “fix” the problem until you know what is going on.

When a patient starts to repeat themselves, this is an ideal time to show you’ve been listening. A simple statement – “I want to make sure I heard you right. Is this your issue?” – proves you heard their concern and in many cases, will immediately calm the patient.

Download our free case to see how listening changed a patient’s experience – and her life. >>

Rule #2: Empathize

Putting yourself in the patient’s shoes is key to guiding them through an issue and delivering the experience they want and need. Unlike sympathy, empathy shows an attempt to understand a patient rather than just feel sorry for them.

Start by being honest with your patient. If you haven’t been through the same experience, try to feel what they’re going through and acknowledge their struggle. If you’ve been there, done that, let them know. Then find a way to look past the problem and move forward. And for those inevitably discouraging days, equip yourself and your department with actionable ways to fight off empathy fatigue.

Rule #3: Take ownership

Remember your compass as a PFS professional. Your job is centered on people. And in recognizing your patients as real people, you’ll be more willing to own the situation and work through challenges with them. In many cases, letting a patient know you are going to work with them is all they want to hear.

Begin by thinking, “This isn’t my fault, but it is my problem.” Approach the patient with confidence and reassurance – making it clear that you will take care of them, you’re in this together, and you will look at all the options available.


Rule #4: Don’t start the argument

As a world leader in customer experience, Disney teaches their employees that customers will be substantially more frustrated by an organization’s inability to fix a problem than they are by the problem itself. This principle holds true for the patient experience, too.

So when you’re interacting with an escalated patient, focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do. Telling a patient “no” or that they “have” to do something is the perfect way to start an argument. Instead, actively look for solutions, explain the context of the policy or situation to the patient, and respectively ask them for the information you need.

Rule #5: It’s not personal

Last, but certainly not least, remember that the patient is not upset with you. They are upset with the situation or the organization. Keeping this in mind will help you dodge discouragement and defensive reactions so you can stay focused your job. And that job is not about winning an argument. It’s about serving and educating the patient.

So instead of engaging an outraged patient and falling into an argument, calmly place them on hold and take a moment to think about how you should respond. It’s okay to ask a patient to remain calm if they become verbally abusive toward you. And remember, sometimes creating a positive experience for the patient means learning to let certain things go.



Download our FREE case study to see how your PFS team can create patient interactions that leave positive impressions and lasting results.

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