Four Ways to Deal with Difficult Patients

doctor talking to a patient

If you work as a medical professional, it’s highly likely that you’ve had your fair share of irate patients. Perhaps you’ve even encountered elderly patients throwing their bedpans across the room because they didn’t like the pudding in their breakfast meal. Or, you’ve encountered an angry family while you were explaining the amount they have to settle through the hospital’s emergency department or ED billing system.

If you want to maintain a harmonious relationship with your patients (and their families), no matter how aggressive they can get, you can try the following suggestions.

Put yourself in their shoes

It can be stressful to work in a hospital, and no one will argue with that. But, it can be just as stressful for the patients you’re taking care of. People who are sick go through a series of emotions that can be equally tiresome. So tiresome that they just might snap at anyone, including you.

Try to understand that they may be scared of their illness and what it can do to them. They may also be tired of being sick and incapable of taking care of their selves. Whatever the reason may be, the burden is on you to understand and empathize with each of your patients’ situation.

Wait for them to calm down

You may be in a hurry to end your shift or go to your next patient, but if your current patient is throwing a tantrum, you should give them some time to calm down. People are much more vulnerable when they are sick, so your patient is probably having a hard time adjusting to the news that they are terribly ill.

If they go ballistic, just let them be. Try your best to be understanding. Let them and their families rant for a while and when you see an opening, try to calm them down.

Don’t seem too apologetic

This may sound weird and counter-productive, but it’s actually helpful to ease some of the tension in patients if you let them know that you have nothing to apologize for. Sick people may focus their anger at you because they are looking for someone or something to blame. But if you open yourself up as a target, then your patients might just vent all their frustration at you.

So, send them a message that you know they are scared or frustrated by letting them rant and get angry at you, but don’t apologize if you have done nothing wrong. Eventually they will calm down and when they do, they might even apologize for their behavior. Accept it and reassure them that their outburst didn’t hurt you.

Keep communication lines open

girl in a conversation with a therapistFinally, it’s important that you keep your communication lines open with your patients. Try your best to be available to them as much as possible so that they will feel valued. People who are sick, whether it’s a terminal illness or just a flu, feel fragile, so they need reassurance that they are being taken care of.

Handling aggressive or angry patients can make your life a little bit harder. But if you truly love your job, it’s a small sacrifice to think first about what your patients are going through before you think about your own troubles.