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How to Handle Difficult Patients

How to Handle Difficult Patients

Cindy Mehallow | Monster Contributing Writer

Response Strategies

Once you understand what makes some patients so difficult, it can be easier to follow the experts’ suggested dos and don’ts.

Make sure you:

Observe: Notice a patient’s words, voice or attitude to pick up on rising anger levels. Overly compliant behavior is also a warning sign that a patient has lost his identity and sense of competence, which can lead to vulnerability, fear, anger and violence. “Worries and loss of control often are triggers of aggression,” says Simms, who urges nurses to trigger a sense of capability in patients, not one of vulnerability.

Connect: Uncover and directly address a patient’s underlying feelings with comments such as, “You sound worried. What can we do to help?” Establishing a personal connection can go a long way toward gaining cooperation, Kuhn says.

Show Respect: Make eye contact, and try to approach patients at eye level. Always address patients as Mr. or Mrs., and speak in a friendly manner.

Slow Down: Rushing can be counterproductive, especially when caring for those with dementia.

Recruit Help: Enlist relatives to help break the isolation, create solutions and provide support.

Be Informed: Know your employer’s patient bill of rights, as well as its policies and procedures for dealing with difficult patients.


Bullying: Don’t use your caregiver status to threaten patients.

Making Assumptions: Most patients are not intentionally abusive or disruptive. They often are responding to an irritation, vulnerability, cognitive impairment, inability to express themselves or loss of identity.

Putting Up Walls: Distance just fuels patients’ anger.

Tolerating Disruptive Behavior: Clearly explain what is unacceptable to avoid problems later.

Taking It Personally: “You can’t expect that everyone at work will act pleasantly,” Godfrey says. “Interpersonal mishaps or confrontations are guaranteed when you work with the public.”

Read the original article Difficult Patients: Why They’re That Way and How to Handle Them on

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