Tips For Dealing With Difficult Patients

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Published: 26 Feb 2017      

As a medical professional, you are committed to helping all who come to your facility. Unfortunately, some of the patients you treat will be difficult, for whatever reasons, which makes the job extremely challenging.

According to the NHS, there were over 20,000 attacks on medical professionals during 2015/16, which is a 50% increase over the last six years. As sad as it is to say, this is an issue that all medical professionals need to confront.

With that in mind, we have come up with some tips to help you deal with angry, emotional, or otherwise difficult patients so that everybody stays safe.

Empathise With the Patient

Try to put yourself in the shoes of your patients at all times. In many cases, the people you are working with are scared and confused, which can lead to a lot of bad emotional responses. Keep the tone calm and give patients time to talk, prompting them along with statements that help them get to the route of their emotions. For example, you can say things like “I might be upset if I were in your position.” A statement like that is often more effective at getting to the root cause of the emotion than a question, which may be seen as obtrusive or confrontational.

Look For Signs of Anger

Not all patients are going to be overt about their feelings, which can lead to unpleasant surprises when emotions finally do boil over. As a medical professional, you need to keep an eye out for the various signs that somebody may be getting angry. Negative body language, such as crossed arms or glowering stares, can often be an indicator, as can increased fidgeting when you are talking to patients. When you spot these signs, remember the advice about offering empathy and tailor the discussion towards dealing with the emotional needs of patients, rather than focusing purely on the medical.

Don’t be Dismissive

When it comes to conversation, anger serves the purpose of getting the other person’s attention. Being dismissive of the concerns being raised in such a situation is not helpful to anybody, as it gives the anger no outlet. While we aren’t saying that you should allow yourself to be abused for the sake of preventing further issues, it is important to recognise that anger shines a spotlight on a problem that needs to be confronted, so pay attention and consider ways to soothe the situation.

Be Aware of Your Own Body Language

Observing a patient’s body language is one thing, but keeping control of your own represents a whole new challenge. Remember that your patients will be watching the way you react to what they say, which can cause issues of its own. Simple things, like maintaining non-threatening eye contact and avoiding body language that could be seen as confrontational, such as pursing your lips or raising your eyebrows, will help to keep the situation calm. In a lot of cases, you can defuse difficult situations by carrying yourself correctly, as well as speaking calmly and rationally.

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