As a physician, nurse, clinician, or other healthcare professionals, it’s inevitable that at some point, you’ll need to deal with a difficult patient. Yes, it goes with the territory, but it can be hard nonetheless. The bad news is these situations often increase the stress level in the attending healthcare staff, while also reducing productivity.
There are many reasons why a patient in your care may be difficult, including anxiety, pain, frustration, fear, and anger regarding their diagnosis. Understanding where their unhappiness is coming from is one thing – but learning how to cope and manage the situation is the important part. It’s a skill that can be learned and we’ve provided six tips below to help you better manage these sticky situations.
1.) Don’t Take it Personally
When a patient is angry, verbally abusive, confrontational or otherwise “difficult,” it can be challenging to keep your cool and step back from the situation. In some cases, you may actually question yourself, your decisions and even your abilities. Remember that for the patient, it’s often truly not personal. Pain, fear, a devastating diagnosis or other factors can be the true cause of the problem, not you.
2.) Listen to the Patient
One of the reasons patients lash out is because they feel unheard. They’re scared and want to know that everything will be okay. That’s why listening to a patient’s vent can make them feel safe. It will help calm their anxieties. As health care practitioners, it’s important to communicate with the patients to help them understand their health condition better and improve their mental state.
3.) Step Back
Sometimes, just physically removing yourself from a stressful situation and taking a breather is the best thing you can do. Get off the floor, grab a cup of coffee, check emails, and take a few minutes for yourself. Stepping away physically can sometimes help you step away emotionally and enable you to get a more detached perspective on what has happened.
4.) Always Be Professional
In some cases, a patient will push all your buttons and try to test your patience. Experts recommend that you keep a positive but professional attitude. There are a lot of phrases and quotes that you can use to calm the patient down. It can help the patient trust you and communicate with you. Try using metaphors and analogies to help with physician-patient communications.
5.) Talk it over
Another way to gain a more objective perspective is to discuss the experience with a trusted colleague or mentor. While you should avoid the temptation simply to hammer home your own point of view and work yourself up again—talking the details over and getting someone else’s take can aid in productive reflection.
6.) Last but Not Least: Set Boundaries
As a medical professional, you’ll come across many patients that are demanding. Experts recommend that you set boundaries during the initial meetings. It helps to avoid any mishaps. Most healthcare practitioners prefer the standardized approach for their patients – helping to set boundaries from day one and treat every patient equally.
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