Nursing is a challenging job. The long hours, critical cases and the fast-paced environment are what make our every day exciting. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
When patients become short-tempered and frustrated, things can get a little bit out of hand. If things get worse, the last, and probably the only thing, you can do is to call for security.
To prevent things from getting out of control, you can use the following five statements in dealing with difficult patients.
1. “I understand how you feel that way.”
THE PROBLEM: One of the most common reasons why patients lose their cool (unless they have hypothermia) is because they feel sidelined or neglected. Having to wait for hours just to see his doctor, particularly, when he’s not feeling very well can trigger a lot of emotions.
THE SOLUTION: Once you notice your patient starting to show a change of behavior, like clenching his jaw or raising his voice, make sure to react right away. Addressing his concern by showing empathy can soothe his rising temper.
Empathic paraphrasing allows you to recognize and reflect back your patient’s emotions. In effect, it decreases his negative feelings.
2. “I’m here to help you.”
THE PROBLEM: Because patients feel vulnerable when they’re not in their best health condition, it’s easy to make them feel unwanted and uncared for. When things start to get out of hand, keep in mind to avoid initiating or fueling arguments.
THE SOLUTION: Instead, you can address the situation by presenting yourself, offering help and making sure your patient feels understood and accepted. Most of the time, these things are actually just what your patients are looking for. Reassure the patient that you’re there to help them, not to make them worse.
3. “I agree that this is something important for you, but I can’t attend to it right now.”
THE PROBLEM: Setting boundary is important, particularly if you have a manipulative patient. This type of patient can appeal to your emotions and conscience by crying, threatening you or by throwing a fit. He may even demand for a special treatment such as asking you to attend to his needs first.
THE SOLUTION: Although it’s tempting to directly confront the behavior, doing so will only push your patient into raising his argument more. Difficult patients have their own beliefs and will not adjust to how you see things.
4. “You seem to have a different opinion about it. Let me explain your other options.”
THE PROBLEM: Difficult patients are hard to manage for several reasons. For one, they can push you to your limit and even up to the point where you respond negatively.
THE SOLUTION: In addressing them, avoid using phrases that will escalate the situation.
“In dealing with difficult patients, it’s important to keep your own tone in check. The use of negative language will only put them in a defensive mode which will only make the situation even harder to resolve. Try to stick with giving out positive responses,” a veteran nurse shared.
5. “I apologize, but I don’t understand what you are trying to say.”
THE PROBLEM: The patient is a simply a douchebag.
THE SOLUTION: A good way to diffuse a patient’s anger is to not fight back. Using this statement redirects your patient’s focus on making his point or feelings clearer to you. It doesn’t , however, necessarily mean that you don’t understand your patient.
To make this approach more effective, you can use non-confrontational body language. Keeping your hands on your sides rather than crossing your arms on your chest is a good example. Eye contact is also particularly important when talking to your patients as it helps create the impression that you’re focused on them and what they are saying.
Have you encountered a difficult patient before? How did you handle the situation?