7 Strategies for Working With Difficult Patients

Updated on October 30, 2018

Working in healthcare is challenging enough and can become even more difficult of a job when dealing with difficult patients. Accept that this comes with the position and then learn strategies that are going to allow you to handle these situations with more ease and confidence.

What you don’t want to do is let your emotions get the best of you and act unprofessionally. It’s extremely important you can keep your cool and maintain your poise in all circumstances with patients. While it won’t be easy, the process of doing so will become less tiresome and taxing over time as you gain additional experience. There are, however, many advantages of working in healthcare.

1. Engage in Conversation & Actively Listen

One strategy you can use when working with difficult patients is to engage in conversation with them proactively, and actively listen. Pay attention to what they’re trying to tell you and their main concerns as you converse. Repeat back what you think you heard so you can confirm that’s exactly how they’re feeling at the time. Get them to do a lot of the talking so you can truly understand where they’re coming from and see their side of the story. However, be in control of the conversation by asking the right questions and getting them to refocus if they happen to go off on a tangent.

2. Help Them Problem Solve

Patients may be acting difficult because they’re feeling scared, surprised or are trying to cope with the fear of the unknown. Be understanding of this reality and help them to problem solve, so they don’t feel helpless or stuck. For instance, if it’s a scenario of someone aging who can no longer care for themselves, then offer up an in-home care solution provided by trusted home care specialists at CareBuilders. They’ll appreciate you coming to the table with ideas for how they can go on with their life and daily schedule without feeling so afraid. Do your homework and present several options for them so they can choose the one that fits their needs the best.   

3. Be Compassionate

It’s easy to get in an all business mode when you work in healthcare and become desensitized to certain situations. However, it’s important to be compassionate and empathic to all patients, especially ones who are acting difficult. Show them you have a human side and aren’t rushing them out the door when they’re feeling vulnerable. Share a personal story if you can relate or at least acknowledge their circumstances and show that you care about them through your words and body language. Do your best to connect with the patient and get to know them better on a personal level.

4. Don’t Take it Personally

While it may be tempting to be hard on yourself in this situation, you can’t take these encounters personally. Working in healthcare, you’re going to see all kinds of different patients and personalities. You have to learn to embrace each one as a unique situation and not let people get under your skin. Remember that you’re in a professional setting and that it’s part of your job to work with a wide variety of patients. Keep in mind that they may be upset with what you’re telling them or how their health is unfolding, but that it’s not your fault.

5. Know Your Limits

It’s essential that you set boundaries with difficult patients and not let them walk all over you. While it’s okay for them to express frustration or speak their mind, it’s not okay for them to act out of line and display signs of abuse. If a situation starts to get out of hand then know what next steps you should take so you can properly and professionally diffuse whatever is going on. Tread lightly to get to know more about them but also remind yourself this is a work setting and that you’re their healthcare provider. Clearly communicate what you can do for them and let them decide if they want to accept the help or not.

6. Stay Patient

Another strategy you can use when working with difficult clients is to stay as patient as possible. Remain calm so you can think clearly and not allow yourself to overreact or say words you might later regret. Walk away or take a break if you need to and compose yourself so you can return to the conversation in a peaceful state of mind. Once again, try to put yourself in their shoes and understand where they’re coming from. They may be upset because they’re in pain or don’t have the answers they need, but aren’t exactly frustrated with you personally. You’ll be able to diffuse the situation and get somewhere with your patients when you don’t let yourself get rattled.

7. Learn to let go

Ultimately, you have to learn to let go of the encounters that you have throughout the day with difficult patients. If you dwell and hang on then it’ll likely eventually affect your health and job performance. It’s normal to feel upset or angry after engaging with an unruly patient, but it’s in your best interest to shake it off. Remind yourself of what did go well that day and other reasons why you enjoy your career. Proactively manage your stress on a daily basis and learn how to practice deep breathing exercises so you can bounce back quickly. Recall all of the pleasant patients you deal with on a regular basis and what joy other people who you’ve worked with have brought to your life.

Come to terms with the fact that you’re going to have to deal with difficult patients throughout your career working in healthcare. Take advantage of implementing these strategies and tips when you’re feeling overwhelmed or unsure of how to react. Soon enough you’ll get in the habit of dealing with challenging patients and it won’t feel so cumbersome and stressful as time goes on. Keep your spirits high and remind yourself about all of your talents and all the people’s lives who you’ve touched and helped along the way.

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