Ten Tips for Dealing with Difficult Patients
The below summary lists ten tips you can use when dealing with difficult patients.
Handling difficult patients comes with the territory of dealing with people in general. You’ve probably heard the horror stories about unpleasant patients and will likely cross paths with one someday, if you haven’t already. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer that applies to every situation but there are strategies you can use to help navigate these tricky situations.
1. Don’t take it personally
It's easy to think a difficult patient is upset with you personally, but that’s almost never the case. Remember that the patient may be dealing with unfortunate circumstances and likely not in the best frame of mind. Continue to do your job in a professional and caring manner and don’t let their negativity get in your head. Just knowing that the nastiness is not about you is a good starting point.
2. Look for the underlying cause
Many patients are dealing with medical conditions, pain, or side effects from medications that can alter their mood and make them more irritable. Sometimes you can alleviate a patient’s bad mood by determining the underlying cause of the problem. Sometimes it has nothing to do with the patient’s reason for being there or may be fear of the unknown.
3. Learn to prioritize
An agitated patient may try to goad you into tending to their needs about your other patients. It’s important to view your patients’ needs objectively and prioritize. Never neglect a patient in need because you feel pressured into helping a difficult patient who doesn’t require immediate care.
4. Show that you care
Sometimes difficult patients make a fuss about minor requests because they feel no one is listening to them. Set aside your frustration with the patient and do what you can to meet their needs as best you can.
5. Know your strengths and weaknesses
Being aware of your own strengths and weaknesses in tough situations can help you prepare for difficult patient interactions. For example, you may be able to rely on your good sense of humor to keep you feeling positive or to improve a patient’s mood. If you’re easily discouraged by negative comments, take a few moments to yourself to regroup before continuing your day.
6. Pay attention
Sometimes you can prevent difficult situations before they happen (or from escalating) just by being observant. Look for triggers that may cause a patient pain or distress and be on the lookout for escalating social situations. You may be able to diffuse a tense situation before it starts.
7. Stay calm
Easier said than done - it’s easy to become annoyed, irritated and angry when you’re faced with a difficult patient. Taking your frustration out on the patient will only make matters worse. Staying calm will help you ease tensions and keep the situation from escalating further.
8. Connect with the patient
No one wants to be just another patient. Taking the time to get to know and connect with a difficult patient is a great way to show you care about them as a person and not just another item on your patient log. By seeing the patient as an individual, it’s easier to tolerate his/her demands and be compassionate.
9. Don’t accept abuse
It’s never in any person’s job description to be the victim of verbal abuse from an agitated patient. You must be careful not to establish habits where you are accepting abusive behavior as “ok”. If a patient continues to be abusive after you’ve told them their behavior is unacceptable, it’s time to alert your immediate supervisor or the physician. No matter what the circumstances, never hesitate to contact the authorities if you feel a patient is placing you or others in physical danger.
10. Focus on patient care
All patients deserve the best care the practice can provide – even the difficult ones! Make it your main focus to deliver excellent positive care to all your patients.
Dealing with difficult patients is never fun, but it doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying what you do. Working in a medical practice, you have the rewarding opportunity to work with patients from all walks of life. Sometimes this results in unexpected situations, so it’s important to be prepared to always handle yourself confidently and compassionately.