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6 Expert Tips on Managing and Dealing With Difficult Patients

When you work in the healthcare industry, dealing with difficult patients in a professional way is a necessary skill.

No matter how exceptional you are at your job, there will always be challenging cases coming through the door. Sometimes the frustrations stem from pain, intoxication, or emotional distress. Other times they’re people who are belligerent simply for the sake of being inconvenient.

However, no matter how poorly the patient may behave, you can never compromise your level of professionalism. Maintaining the same level of care for all patients is your duty.

Here are some ways to make those challenging patients a bit easier to handle.

Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Patients

Whether you work in primary care, the ER, oncology, an all women’s medical office, hospice, or some other healthcare setting, dealing with difficult patients is a universal struggle, but thankfully it’s one you can temper.

With the right strategy, you can take the reins back from an unruly patient and even diffuse a bad situation.

Consider these 6 tips to help you maintain compassion, patience, and sanity as you manage these scenarios.

1. Always Keep Calm

No matter how out of line the patient gets, keep calm. Don’t share in the chaos by allowing your temper to escalate or the patient to see you out of sorts.

By not allowing his or her behavior to trigger a negative reaction out of you, it demonstrates that their unruly behavior will not achieve their end goal.

Instead, remain patient and respond positively to proper behavior, thus reinforcing that cooperation leads to desirable results.

2. Communicate and Connect with the Patient

When a patient acts out, the first thing you need to do is build a bridge of communication between yourself and him or her.

Often times those who behave belligerently are frustrated and simply want their thoughts, feelings, or will to be heard and understood. By presenting the offer to have a calm and civil discussion, you give them this opportunity.

Use a calm voice when you speak and aim to guide the conversation through a logical thought process using active listening skills.

What is active listening? It is a skillful approach to conversation designed to foster trust and build rapport with the person you are engaging. This form of listening involves:

  • Paraphrasing what you’re told to demonstrate you understand
  • Reflecting on the speaker’s thoughts
  • Utilizing short words of affirmation and encouragement, such as “I understand” or “Please continue”
  • Identify expressed emotions through statements like, “It sounds to me like you feel frustrated…”
  • Rein in what the speaker is saying by piecing together the problem using the information he or she has provided
  • Provide feedback based on the conversation and objectively identify his or her options or provide solutions

In doing this, you not only allow the patient to express what is upsetting him or her, but you also help guide them through a logical thought process that should lead them toward a resolution.

3. Show Empathy for the Patient’s Situation

Try to put yourself in the patient’s position. Consider their circumstance, any challenges they may be dealing with, as well as symptoms that may impede their ability to think coherently or behave properly.

The reasons that bring a patient to a hospital or healthcare provider can sometimes be traumatic or frightening. By reaching out and trying to understand their feelings, you open up a more healthy line of communication.

There is power in empathy. Showing a distraught patient that someone acknowledges their situation and is interested in their wellbeing can significantly impact their cooperation as well as their health and recovery.

Present yourself as their ally; someone who is there to help them, not harm them or make their experience more frightening. You may be surprised by how quickly this approach can calm a troubled patient.

4. Do Not Engage in Arguments

No matter how hard a patient tries to elicit an argument, don’t give in. Instead, remain professional, respectful, and firm in delivering the care he or she requires.

If you make a mistake, apologize and reassure the patient that you will address the issue immediately. If he or she is upset about something that you are not at fault for but you can remedy, don’t get hung up on defensive arguments and blame.

Simply inform the patient that you will resolve the issue, then follow that promise up with your actions. Don’t put off their concerns, but rather show them that you are in control of the situation and they can trust you to take care of their needs.

5. Draw a Clear Line Defining What’s Acceptable and What’s Not

But what about unreasonable patients? We’ve all had them. They’re the kind who do not respond to logic or rationalization.

In cases like these, you have to draw clear boundaries for the patient. Set the standard and define limitations. For example, clearly state how you will respond to his or her needs, then follow up on that guarantee.

Make it clear in a calm, respectful, and decisive manner how you will handle their care. Do not argue with him or her, but rather assert your expectations professionally.

If need be, take additional measures to ensure your safety and the safety of others on your team.

6. Don’t Take It Personally

At the end of a difficult interaction or shift, shake the dust. Don’t take your patients’ words or behavior personally, but rather remember to set emotional boundaries between your heart and your work.

Harboring negative emotions, replaying scenarios in your head, and carrying the baggage of a patient’s belligerent words will only do you harm. Take a deep breath and let it go instead.

No patient lasts forever. They’re only temporary, as is the situation that made you angry or distressed.

What if the Patient isn’t the Bully?

Dealing with difficult patients is one thing, but what if the real bully isn’t a patient, but rather an employee? We’ve all had to deal with jerks in the workplace at some point or another.

Explore our blog to discover tips on how to deal with office or workplace drama.

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