Providing Quality Patient Care in Difficult Situations and to Difficult Patients

As with any customer-facing business, you are bound to come across difficult individuals. In the healthcare industry, dealing with difficult patients is something every doctor, nurse, and clinician has to master. They have to master this and not let it hinder them from providing Quality Patient Care. It’s part of the job, howbeit, the not too pleasant part. Below we discuss the ways that healthcare personnel can deal with difficult patients.

Remain Calm

This really is the first rule in a conflict resolution situation. The best approach is to remain calm and approach whatever situation in a calm and clear manner. When you can calm, you can approach the situation and diffuse it in a timely manner. Most patients act up because they feel they are being ignored or not listened to so when they perceive your calm demeanor accompanied by your willingness to listen, they will, in turn, start to calm down.

Figure Out the Source of the Problem

Just because a patient is acting up or being loud doesn’t mean they are at fault. Figure out what is wrong and find out if it’s actually your fault or the fault of another hospital staff. If it’s getting too heated, take a deep breath and maybe excuse yourself. It also helps if you acknowledge the situation. Sometimes it could be that there is already tension between you and the patient even though it is not obvious.

Instead of being passive aggressive, just acknowledge the situation and suggest to “start over” on a better note with the patient. It also helps to see things from a patient’s perspective. A lot of times, a patient is afraid and in a vulnerable situation and that causes them to act out of character. It helps if you remind yourself of this when a patient starts to act weird. Also, you might be in a bad mood or have your own problems (you are human after all) don’t blow up on your patients because of your mood. Learn to separate your feelings from your job.


Self Care

As a medical professional be it a doctor, nurse, hospital staff etc, your job involves you constantly being in a high-stress situation. It helps if you use your time out of work to focus on some self-care activities that can make you more grounded and calmer at work. You can try yoga, exercise, meditation etc.

Let Them Talk

Sometimes when I watch Grey’s Anatomy and there are scenes where a patient comes in and they start to tell a story about their life or the love of their life or something. And all the doctors just stand around listening attentively and I’m Just like “urrrrgggg who cares?!” Well, it actually helps patient if they talk about their life. It helps them calm down and it helps them process the heavy emotions they might be feeling. It also helps to engage them in conversation. Use their name when you talk to them, maintain eye contact and avoid using negative language.

You can also ask if the patient has any ideas such as, “Can you tell me what you need?” or “Do you have suggestions on how to solve this problem?” Let the patient know you understand his or her feelings, and practice active listening: paraphrase back what the patient just told you, and then calmly explain the situation.


Practice Empathy

Empathy is one of the most important qualities that a healthcare professional should have. Being empathetic can go a long way to help patients calm down if they are tensed and also to help them feel better. If the patient sees that you are really trying to understand them, it can help calm their frustration. Remind yourself that you would probably feel or act the same way if you were put in a similar situation. It’s no fun beings in pain. Tell them you understand how upsetting the situation must be. Demonstrate that you care about them, are interested in them and that they are important to you.

Set Boundaries

When dealing with patients, especially the difficult ones, it helps if you set boundaries and limits. So for example, if your patient is using a lot of profanity, you can let them know that that is not ok and you would not attend to them if they keep using such language. Setting boundaries also keep you safe in situations that maybe start to escalate.

Have a Positive Body Language

If you know anything about communications, you know that a lot of nonverbal communication is done through body language and a lot of times it says more than words. You can control the narrative of your interaction with patients simply by your body language. You can change the energy in a patient’s room simple by how you walk in and your facial expressions.

Don’t Argue

Many patients will try to drag you into an argument. It is important that your learn how to give your opinion and inform the patient without getting into an argument or a shouting match. A lot of times, a simple apology can end an argument before it starts. If your patient is being erratic and difficult to reason with then you should consider seeking extended help. If you feel something else is needed to help this patient through their anger, emotional breakdowns or other difficulties, you can suggest finding a social worker, hospital chaplain or someone else for them to talk to. This needs to be handled very gracefully and sensitively so they don’t feel abandoned by you.