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Dealing with Difficult Patients/Clients

  • Just like any profession that involves dealing with the public, being in home care can mean working with people that are difficult in a manner of ways. You can run into all reactions, including defensiveness, anger, fear, demandingness, hysteria, and a whole list of other things, and that’s just the patients, not the families that you need to work with and work around.
  • Add in medications or diseases that can cause confusion, drowsiness, or agitation, and it’s a whole new ball game of trying to give the best care, professionalism, and empathy. But there are useful strategies in handling the unrelenting, frustrated, unpleasant, or uncooperative patients.
  • Sometimes, those working in the healthcare industry get desensitized. You do things over and over again. But you need to really look at how you are interacting with those around you.
  • “Difficult Clinician-Patient Relationships” helping all types of healthcare professionals a chance to understand how to improve these sticky relationships.
  • We all have our internal biases. We all have those moments that the hair on the back of our neck goes up because of certain patients, or we might have come to work after having a fight with our spouse, or we haven’t had our morning coffee before we have to see a patient. It can be anything, and that leaks out sometimes in our body language.
  • For whatever is going on and whatever type of patient you are dealing with, there is a way to handle the situation.
  1. Is it them or you? Figure out if it really is the patient or something that is coming from within yourself and your life.

    It’s not always about the patient. There might be a lot of things going on at work that create a perfect storm. It could be something about a patient that reminds you of someone you don’t care for in your personal life. Take a moment and take a deep breath, and think to yourself, “What am I bringing to the table?”

  2. Acknowledge the situation

    Sometimes, you just have to speak out loud about the tension. Say something like, “I feel like we are getting off on the wrong foot.”

  3. Ground yourself

    Whether it’s yoga, running, or some other exercise, medical professionals need to ground themselves and have better self-care. Whatever you do outside of your job for stress release can help keep you more centered and more together mentally.

  4. Look through a patient’s perspective

    If a patient is screaming at you or getting angry, it might just be their fears coming out. My belief for many people is that either their best or worst self presents itself at that time of a health concern. You have to remember that this is their experience that is the focus and not your own. By having a conversation about their temperament and where it is coming from can help.

  5. Let them tell their story

    Providing an opportunity and the time for a patient to tell their story and delving into how they have come to this point can help their distress. If they are emotionally distraught, console them, and give them the time and space to express their psychological and emotional needs.

  6. Avoid defensive posture

    Remember, it’s not about “me.” It’s about the patient. This kind of thinking will help us in many situations. Refrain from thinking about your feelings. Do not blow up at them because of your own frustrations.

  7. Find opportunities for empathy

    The most powerful skill a clinician can have is genuine empathy. If their eyes are tearing up, you hand them a tissue. It can go a long way. It makes the patient feel as if you are really trying to understand them and that you care.

  8. Set boundaries

    If someone is using profanity at you or screaming at the top of their lungs, you should set limits. Say something like, “There are certain things that we allow here, and in order to continue to talk to you, you cannot use that language. I will step out of the room for a while to give you time to calm down.”

  9. Realign your body language

    When I start to get frustrated because I’m not making progress with a patient, I take little breaths. We both need to refocus at that time. If the patient is becoming demanding, and I’m getting frazzled, those energies need to be refocused. And when you do that, your body language realigns.

  10. Find extended help for the patient

    If you feel something else is needed to help this patient through their anger, emotional breakdowns, or other difficulties, you can suggest finding a social worker, chaplain, or someone else for them to talk to. This needs to be handled very gracefully and sensitively so they don’t feel abandoned by you.

Remember that you can’t be all things to all people. There will always be difficult patients. Patients come to us with mental health issues, mood disorders, depressions, anxiety, and a host of other complications. They have lives or lifestyles that we may not understand or even agree with. But none of that matters. Each patient deserves the best care you can give them. Remember that you need to find the calm in yourself, be objective and be honest with them. Showing empathy and giving them your undivided attention and time could make a big difference in their attitude and soften those hard edges.

elderly couple and the two daughters