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Dealing with Difficult Patients: How to Keep Your Cool

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Working in healthcare can be an extremely rewarding experience. Patients are often grateful for the treatment and care they receive. But sometimes patients can be difficult, hostile, or even aggressive. Almost everyone who works in the field of healthcare will encounter a difficult patient at least occasionally in their career. In order to handle situations appropriately, it’s important to understand more about why patients become difficult and how they may act.

What are Difficult Patients?

There are all types of difficult patients. Keep in mind it may not just be the patient who is difficult to deal with. In some situations, it’s a family member who is giving you a hard time. Patients or family members may be difficult in the following ways:

  • Noncompliant
  • Manipulative
  • Self-destructive
  • Hostile
  • Overly Demanding

Why Patients Become Difficult

Patients may become difficult to deal with for a variety of reasons.  One thing, which all patients have in common, is they are in the hospital dealing with some type of medical condition. In addition to not feeling well, a patient may be stressed, anxious, or depressed. Those feelings can become extreme, and patients may be easily upset in certain situations. In some instances, patients may also feel scared or unhappy with the care they are receiving.

Keep in mind that patients have all different backgrounds and personal issues they may be dealing with. Some patients may have an addiction problem or psychiatric issues, both of which can contribute to difficult situations developing.

How to Deal with Difficult Patients

There are several things you can do to handle difficult situations and calm patients down.  Consider some of the following suggestion in order to deescalate the situation.

  • Listen to Concerns: Sometimes a patient just wants to know they are heard. There may or may not be anything you can do to correct the situation, but just listening can help. Lending an empathetic ear can go a long way to calm an upset patient.
  • Use Clear Communication: Medical language and information can make a patient feel overwhelmed. When patients are upset or very emotional, it can contribute to misinterpretation and make a situation worse. Be sure to speak to your patients in a respectful manner in language they will understand.
  • Remain Calm: While it may not always be easy to stay calm when dealing with difficult people, it is essential. Arguing with a patient or defending yourself may make the situation worse. Keep your cool and try not to take things personally.
  • Show Empathy: Healthcare workers usually are empathetic by nature, but showing empathy is especially important when dealing with difficult patients. Just like patients need to be listened to, they need to feel like someone understands how they feel.
  • Get Assistance if Needed: You never want to put yourself in a situation where you think you could be hurt physically. You also don’t want a patient to injure themselves. Assess the situation and don’t hesitate when it comes to calling in reinforcements. Call additional staff or security for help.
Contributor Tera Rowland

Tera Rowland is the vice president of Soliant and has worked in the healthcare staffing industry for almost 20 years in public relations, social media, marketing and operations. In addition to Soliant, Tera worked at the Mayo Clinic as an internal communication manager and for the Children’s Miracle Network. She is a member of the American Marketing Association and the American Staffing Association. Also, Tera has served on the board of directors for the Jacksonville Women’s Leadership Forum as part of the communication committee. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Relations as well as a Master of Business Administration in Marketing from the University of North Florida and has been published in the Huffington Post, Healthcare Finance News, Healthcare Traveler Magazine, and Scrubs Magazine. Make sure to read the rest of Tera's blogs!