Health professionals will likely have to deal with difficult patients throughout their careers. They are the ones patients look to when experiencing high levels of stress or anxiety over the health issues facing their day to day lives. Such interactions can test the limits of health care professionals who have a duty to remain respectful and composed, so as to not compromise the integrity of their relationship with the patient. Then how should one deal with disrespectful patients?
The most obvious answer: remain calm. A patient acting disrespectfully is generally acting on feelings out of anxiety or a perceived lack of attention rather than attacking you personally. In such situations, it is important to keep control and address the patient in a way that can cool down the situation. Having a response ready for such moments can help diffuse the tension and set boundaries with the patient. For example, if a patient begins using explicit language toward a doctor or nurse, a simple response of, “let’s keep it professional,” can allow the health care professional to call out unacceptable behavior while moving on to the necessary task at hand. When facing unacceptable patient behavior, it helps to remain firm, refusing to engage in arguments or unnecessary apologies. Keep the interaction professional, and if necessary, pursue a follow-up conversation within a day of the interaction to foster a sense of open communication.
Another tactic is to always approach difficult patients with a level of empathy. Remember, you are dealing with patients during the most sensitive, anxiety-inducing moments of their lives. Making patients feel as if you are really trying to understand them and that you genuinely care can go a long way in helping an otherwise disrespectful patient calm down. If you feel the reason for ‘acting out’ extends beyond the stress that comes with health issues, you can suggest that the patient find a social worker or someone to talk to about their difficulties. Be sure that in taking such an approach, you handle the suggestion sensitively to make sure the patient does not feel abandoned.
No matter how calmly or sensitively you approach a disrespectful patient, a patient may still find it necessary to complain about your behavior to the medical board, which can result in fines, reputation damage, or even risk to your license. Williams & Nickl concentrates in helping medical professionals defend their licenses against such claims, with a focus on doctors, physicians, and nurses. If a problem should arise, Williams & Nickl will work to get you through the process.