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6 Top Tips for Dealing with Difficult Patients

difficult patient

By Ed Lamb, Contributor

Even the most dedicated allied health professionals can find themselves looking at available travel positions and asking, “Will this job entail dealing with difficult patients?”

Probably. Difficult patients exist in all health care settings. But the possibility of having a few less-than-ideal patient interactions should never become a deal breaker. Challenging assignments often deliver the most rewards.

Several tried-and-true tactics for dealing with difficult patients exist. Gleaned from the real-life experiences of nurses, therapists, technicians and aides, doing the following six things when you CONTACT MedTravelers for your next travel allied health job will improve the chances of converting difficult patients into appreciative ones.

Know Difficult Patients When You See Them

Successfully dealing with difficult patients depends to a great extent on recognizing that defusing tensions and avoiding triggers may be necessary.

First, take co-workers’ warnings about difficult patients seriously and prepare yourself before you approach potentially resistant or abusive individuals.

When visiting with a patient for the first time, listen for ragged breathing, watch for clenched fists or wringing hands, and take note of the facial expression. Does the patient appear especially uncomfortable or spoiling for a fight? If so, act as if you have a difficult patient to treat.

Realize Difficult Patients Are Dealing With Their Own Problems

Try to take nothing a difficult patient does or says as a personal attack.

Individuals in pain, processing grief, fearing the worst, struggling with depression, feeling neglected or confused by dementia often lash out at the nearest person.

Deal With Difficult Patients by Identifying and Resolving Underlying Issues

Recognizing that difficult patients have health-related, emotional or cognitive reasons for acting the way they do allows a health care provider to focus on identifying and treating the cause.

The best approach to doing this involves remaining calm, taking a neutral stance, asking questions and listening closely to the answers while expressing empathy. As root causes for uncooperative or insulting behavior reveal themselves, start implementing appropriate interventions.

Set and Enforce Boundaries for Difficult Patients

Hearing a patient out does not extend to making oneself a verbal or physical punching bag. Encourage the patient to discuss his or her problems, symptoms and related problems, but do not permit nonstop attacks.

Decompress After Dealing with Difficult Patients

Dealing with difficult patients can fray the nerves, inspire self-doubt and negatively affect visits with later patients.

Health care providers owe it to themselves and the other people they care for to take a break after treating a difficult patient. Time spent breathing deeply, going for a brief walk and reminding oneself that he or she has the skills, knowledge and temperament to provide the best care to all patients can prevent a few trying minutes from ruining a whole day.

Do Not Increase Your Chances of Dealing With Difficult Patients

Sometimes -- not always, but often enough to bear consideration -- the health care provider makes a patient difficult.

Dealing with a difficult patient every now and then comes with the job, but seeming to deal only with difficult ones should prompt self-reflection and possibly spur changes to one’s practice.

Questions to ask include:

  • - Am I getting enough sleep?
  • - Am I working too many hours and seeing too many patients back-to-back-to-back?
  • - Do I take stress from my own life into the exam room or a home health patient’s house?
  • - Do I use too much medical jargon when speaking with patients, thereby confusing them more than informing and empowering them?
  • - Do I act like I have the only valid opinion regarding treatment options?
  • - Do I rise to the bait when a patient makes a rude comment?

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