Doctors dealing with difficult patients, is it the fault of young physicians?

A study released last week reported doctors found that one in six patients were “difficult.”

In addition, physicians who reported these difficult encounters tended to be young and female, leading to a 12-times increased risk of burnout.

Like any relationship, be it a marriage, job, or one between a physician and a patient, not all encounters are going to go smoothly. The editorial commenting on the article suggested, unsurprisingly, that doctors need “better training,” and reforms that “better reimburse doctors for more ‘talk time'” would help.

Failing those options, doctors are nonetheless expected to “rise to the challenge” and deal with less than ideal patient encounters.

So, what to make of the finding focusing on young physicians? Family doctor Doug Farrago thinks it’s simply a matter of experience. “The reason that older docs can handle these patients better is that they have been around the block,” writes Dr. Farrago. “They have learned defense mechanisms to let tough encounters slide off their back. They can laugh at it all and use humor in an appropriate manner both with their patients and with their colleagues . . . The younger docs just need seasoning or they will realize that this job isn’t for them. That is just human nature.”

Duncan Cross discusses the study from a patient standpoint, and observes that “too many doctors encourage – or even demand – that their patients identify them (the doctor) as the sole source and authority for their medical care.”

That’s an unacceptable stance for physicians to take. I realize that my practice style may not be an ideal fit for some patients, and am never offended if a patient seeks another opinion, or transfers their care.

No matter what the situation, the bottom line is this: don’t be a jerk. That goes for both doctors and patients.