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b2ap3_thumbnail_shutterstock_1720841986.jpgHealth 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.

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Chicago Doctor and Nurse LawyerOn March 20, 2020 Governor Pritzker issued Executive Order 2020-10 (“Order”) which required all residents of Illinois to shelter in place. The Order was extended through April 30, 2020. The Order exempted all healthcare workers for the obvious reason that healthcare is a critical concern in the current global pandemic. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (“IDFPR”) has recently posted on its website bulletins related to the healthcare industry, a number of which are entitled “Guidance.” The bulletins concern the temporary relicensing of retired and out-of-state healthcare non-licensed practitioners. None of these bulletins deal with ethical issues in providing healthcare services in a COVID-19 environment.

Specifically, there does not seem to be real guidance for the #1 question Williams and Nickl receives from clients: Must a doctor, PA or nurse remain working in a hospital or clinical setting in which they objectively believe the practice environment is a danger to themselves or their families? The answer is NO!

Even though politicians and science experts resort more and more to the “war” analogy, an Illinois healthcare worker cannot be charged with desertion. As an Illinois healthcare licensee, you are not bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice to sacrifice your life or the health of your family. But all healthcare professions have an affirmative duty to avoid patient abandonment. In short, no doctor, nurse or PA can quit on the spur of the moment. All healthcare practitioners are required to arrange, in one form or another, for the continuity of patient care. What constitutes reasonable notice and arrangement for continuity of care varies widely by individual circumstances.

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