All physicians must care for some patients who are perceived as difficult because of behavioral or emotional aspects that affect their care. Difficulties may be traced to patient, physician, or health care system factors. Patient factors include psychiatric disorders, personality disorders, and subclinical behavior traits. Physician factors include overwork, poor communication skills, low level of experience, and discomfort with uncertainty. Health care system factors include productivity pressures, changes in health care financing, fragmentation of visits, and the availability of outside information sources that challenge the physician's authority. Patients should be assessed carefully for untreated psychopathology. Physicians should seek professional care or support from peers. Specific communication techniques and greater patient involvement in the process of care may enhance the relationship.