How To Deal With Difficult Patients [In An Unoffensive Way]

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How to deal with difficult patients
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If you work in a healthcare setting involving direct contact with patients, you would have experienced unpleasant situations that make you question your decision to be a healthcare provider or professional.

Some experiences are more enjoyable than others, and some may inspire you while others may make you want to quit quickly.

An example is an encounter with a difficult patient, which we will focus on in this article. 

You may contact patients directly if your job involves bedside care, diagnostic imaging, physical assessment, etc. Alternatively, you may also interact with patients virtually by answering calls and responding to emails.

Dealing with difficult patients can be challenging as they may not always understand you and may argue or be unsure about their decisions. Even though patient satisfaction is important, a difficult patient can make it difficult to achieve. 

As a healthcare professional, experiencing this situation can cause you to doubt your abilities and passion for your job. If not appropriately addressed, this can result in job dissatisfaction, a common reason healthcare professionals leave their clinical roles.

This article will briefly explain how you can handle difficult patients [in an unoffensive way].

  • Listen actively to the patient’s complaints or dissatisfaction: Patients want to be heard. They do not want to be treated like some sort of experiment. They want to express their feelings. When they perceive they cannot fully express themselves, they often switch to anger mode or become sad and uncooperative. Sometimes all your patient wants is to see someone who appears to understand them. In this case, model their conversations, show keen interest, and avoid acting hurriedly. Doing this can cause a change in the patient’s attitude, which will smoothen the relationship. 

  • Find the root cause of the problem and seek a solution to it: Your active listening skills and non-verbal cues you have picked up while communicating with your patient, plus your knowledge and experience, might direct you to other issues different from those initially observed, this may be the cause of your patient’s irritability and should not be ignored. Inquire and predict the likely reasons for your patient’s behaviour and address it.

  • Applying empathy and duty of candour: Empathy goes with the saying– “putting yourself in others’ shoes,” while the duty of candour is openness and honesty in the event of wrong care delivery, treatment, or any other form of intervention done for the patient. While tending to the patient’s needs, empathy must reflect in your tone, messages, and manner of action; this can make the patient agree that you understand their plight and are doing your best to help. Also, some patients can quickly detect odd patterns in their care and act uncooperative if they notice anything out of place. In fulfilling the duty of candour, you should explain the situation to your patient and gain their trust.

  • Be firm and set clear boundaries:  In instances where the patient becomes assaultive, letting the patient know that you won’t concede such behaviour helps you retain your professional stance. At the same time, you continue being of service to the patient. In some cases, you may need to be away from the situation for some time and delegate the task to someone competent enough to handle the situation.

  • Involve a senior colleague, supervisor, or manager: There is a good chance that a more senior colleague or supervisor would have experienced situations like this previously and know how to resolve issues like this better. You could make good use of their help and call them to intervene.

As a healthcare professional, patients are the primary recipients of your services.

Sometimes, they may not act in a way that aligns with your efforts to care for them. 

However, you can also look for ways to make them understand that you are trying to help them. They are already in a stressful situation and need people who are patient enough to walk and work with them. 

You can be that person by resolving to help or, if you perceive you can’t help at the moment, then seek help. 


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