When you work in a profession that provides services, dealing with difficult customers is inevitable.
I wish nursing was the exception, but we both know it’s not.
If you have been a nurse for any period of time, you are familiar with how challenging it can be to handle difficult patients.
To help you navigate these annoying situations,here are some of the practical tips I have used.
Tips for Dealing with Difficult Patients in Nursing
This list is comprehensive, and not all of the tips may be relevant to your job or area.
Just take note of a few of them to use the next time you have to deal with a challenging patient.
1. Keep Your Cool
When dealing with difficult patients, your first gut reaction might be to meet them where they are at.
Fight fire with fire, but I encourage you to remain calm.
Getting worked up by a patient will cause you to not think clearly about the situation.
2. Engage the Patient
It is important to communicate with patients and engage them in conversation.
Some patients may become upset if they feel ignored or dismissed.
Others, especially those who lack family or friends, may resort to anger and agitation in order to receive attention.
For these patients, receiving negative attention is better than receiving no attention at all.
Engaging with them may help to alleviate some of the issues that arise during their care.
3. Is the patient confused
Sometimes, patients can be difficult and dissatisfied to deal with, particularly if they are taking specific medications or dealing with certain illnesses.
Depending on the situation, careful management may be required.
An example that comes to mind is a urinary tract infection (UTI) in an elderly population.
In such cases, it’s easy to become frustrated with the patient, but fixing the UTI often resolves the problem.
4. Educate the patient
Sometimes, we may find it difficult to handle challenging patients. However, it’s important to remember that they too might think we are difficult to deal with.
To avoid such situations, it’s crucial to ensure that patients are well-informed about their medical conditions and what needs to be done.
We should do our best to keep patients informed and educated about their treatment plans. Miscommunication can be a problem, and we need to avoid it by communicating effectively.
It’s not uncommon for patients to feel anxious, especially when they don’t understand what is happening.
Therefore, we should be empathetic and ensure that our patients are well-informed about their medical treatment.
5. Show some Empathy
It’s important to show empathy towards your patients.
They might be going through some of the most challenging times of their lives, and it’s not easy for them to be stuck in a hospital away from their loved ones.
6. Don’t you Dare Argue
Patients who are feeling unwell and upset may try to argue with you, but it’s important not to engage in an argumentative manner.
Even if you feel the need to defend yourself, it’s best to remain respectful and avoid confrontation.
Unfortunately, there have been instances where nurses have gotten into a yelling match with a patient, but this is never a good idea.
No matter how you try to spin it, it will always reflect poorly on you.
It’s better to maintain a professional and respectful demeanor, even in challenging situations.
7. Bring Back-up
If you’ve been working with a patient for an extended period of time and you’re not seeing any progress, it might be helpful to involve another nurse.
Despite your best efforts, some people may feel more comfortable with others than they do with you.
There have been instances where I’ve brought in someone else to assist or have been asked to participate in a conversation with a patient because I had a better rapport with them.
8. Give Clarity
It’s important to ensure that patients understand what’s happening to avoid confusion and agitation.
Unfortunately, not all patients are well-informed or health literate, so it’s crucial to explain medical procedures in everyday terms.
Avoid using technical terms that patients may not be familiar with, such as “EGD” (Esophagogastroduodenoscopy). Instead, try to convey the same meaning using simpler language.
For example, instead of saying “EGD,” you can say “we are going to use a camera to look into your stomach.”
After you explain make sure to check with the patient to see if they know what’s happening and if they have any questions.
Doing this will help prevent frustration and ensure a smoother patient experience.
9. Talk to Them About Their Behavior
During a hospital stay, some individuals may not be aware of their actions.
They may not realize that their behavior is causing others distress.
In these situations, it’s best to approach them gently and respectfully about their behavior.
10. Find out more about the disgruntled patient.
Is the patient in good mental and physical health? Some individuals may appear to be healthy, but in reality, they may not be.
It’s essential to ensure that the patient is not experiencing delirium or any other medical condition that may affect their mental and physical well-being.
11. Rotate Different Staff Each Shift
Dealing with the same disgruntled patient shift in and shift out is one of the quickest ways to burn out a nurse.
It’s important to rotate other staff members through to give each nurse time to recharge.
Taking care of the same difficult patient for eight shifts in a row can be exhausting. It’s a good idea to talk to your charge nurse to make sure that difficult patients get rotated around.
This will help prevent burnout and ensure that patients are receiving the best care possible.
12. Think About Your Personal Brand
Handling difficult patients can significantly impact your personal brand, and it’s something that people will remember you for.
Regardless of how agitated patients become, always manage the situation in a manner that reflects positively on you.
I published an article on the importance of nurses creating a personal brand and how to build one. A positive personal brand is essential for career success.
13. Set Firm Limits
There should never be any ambiguity when it comes to what is deemed acceptable in a nurse-patient interaction.
It’s important to make this clear to the patient, especially since many of them may have poor boundaries. In such cases, you will need to firmly and politely establish limits.
For instance, you could say something like, “I’m sorry, but I cannot answer personal questions.”
14. Don’t Drop Your Guard
When interacting with agitated patients, it is important to keep an eye on them. Try to position yourself in a way that they are never between you and the door.
While we hope that violence won’t occur, it is not unheard of for healthcare workers to face violent situations. Therefore, staying safe should be a top priority.
This becomes even more important for those who work in psychiatric or behavioral health facilities. So, it is crucial to not let your guard down.
15. Don’t Take Everything Personally
A patient may speak rudely to you and use profanity.
This is not to suggest that such behavior is acceptable or not, but rather to acknowledge that it may happen.
Patients are often dealing with stress and anxiety related to their condition and treatment, and this may cause them to act out.
While it is important to maintain your own boundaries and not tolerate abuse, it may also be helpful to understand that some patients are going through an incredibly difficult time, and may need a little extra compassion and empathy.
It’s important not to take their behavior personally and to move on professionally.
16. Report the Offense
Reporting a patient requires knowledge of your hospital’s policy and the appropriate chain of command.
If a patient escalates to a certain point, it is important to know whom to contact and have their phone number easily accessible. You should feel empowered to do your job safely.
If you have a patient that is hindering you from ensuring everyone’s safety, make sure to report it.
17. Be Proactive
If you notice a patient starting to become agitated, it’s important to take action and try to calm them down.
This is especially relevant for nurses working in behavioral medicine.
If you see a patient who is getting worked up, try to use coping strategies or distractions to prevent them from reaching a crisis stage.
Being proactive in these situations can make a big difference in the patient’s well-being.
18. Watch Your Posture
Communication is primarily nonverbal, and your posture can say a lot.
Be mindful of poses that may express anger, frustration, or indifference, as they could agitate the patient. Make sure your stance matches your tone – open, warm, and receptive.
If you walk into a situation and say, “I’m going to take really good care of you,” but your demeanor shows that you don’t want to be bothered, the patient will notice.
19. Show Them You Care
Your patients could easily be going through some of the worst moments of their lives.
They might start feeling isolated and think that the world doesn’t care about them. Whenever appropriate, try to show them that you care.
Demonstrating that you care does not have to be something complicated or fancy. It can be as simple as keeping your word.
Follow through on what you tell them you will do. If you tell a patient that you will check in on them in an hour, be back in an hour.
20. Ask Patients Open-ended Questions
Allowing patients to talk about themselves can prove helpful in distracting them from their stressful situations.
Some patients may appear disgruntled at first, but once you start asking them questions and engaging in conversation, they may open up and treat you differently.
It is important to take the time to listen to your patients. When they feel like they are not being heard, they can become angry and upset.
If you don’t listen to your patients, they are less likely to listen to you, and this can result in poor quality care.
22. Check Patient’s Pain Level
Patients who experience pain may become agitated and difficult to communicate with.
It is essential to ask the patient if they are in pain and take steps to alleviate their discomfort.
Generally, patients in acute pain are more challenging to deal with than those who are either pain-free or experiencing pain that they find tolerable.
It is important to address the patient’s pain level and other physical needs to ensure their comfort and well-being.
23. Build Rapport
Make sure you build a good relationship with your patient. Show them that you care by engaging with them.
Building a rapport with your patient is important because it helps them trust you.
Patients are more likely to have a positive experience with someone they trust, as opposed to someone they don’t.
Importance of Dealing with Difficult Patients Appropriately
There are several reasons why it’s crucial to be mindful of how you deal with patients who may become angry, upset, or are just demanding.
1. You’ll Get a Write-up
Being written up is typically one of the first actions taken by supervisors when an employee fails to deal with a patient appropriately.
It is best to avoid any formal disciplinary action, as it will remain in your employee file permanently.
You do not want a black mark to keep resurfacing, especially if you are pursuing a promotion or raise.
2. You’ll Lose Your Job
If you act in a way that is particularly egregious, or if you persistently fail to treat disgruntled patients with respect, you run the risk of being fired.
Losing your job in this way could make it more difficult for you to find future employment opportunities.
3. Ruin Your Personal Brand
We often discuss the significance of creating and maintaining a personal brand for your nursing profession.
However, losing your temper and shouting at a patient or failing to keep your composure with them, no matter how challenging they may be, will not be an effective way to manage your personal brand.
Difficult patients are unfortunately a common occurrence in the nursing profession.
While you may not have control over your patient’s actions, you can certainly control your own behavior.
It’s important to remain professional, stay calm, and treat your patient with respect and kindness, no matter how challenging their behavior may be.
By doing so, you can maintain a positive relationship with your patient, which could ultimately lead to better outcomes in their care.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently asked questions related to dealing with rude patients in healthcare.