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Tips for Handling Difficult Patients and Families

Tips for Handling Difficult Patients and Families

I have been a nurse for over 10 years and I have seen it all. From the friendly, happy patients to the ones who are rude, demanding and disrespectful. Some of my most difficult experiences as a nurse involve dealing with difficult patients and families. However, what’s important is how you handle them. What are your options when dealing with clients that are demanding or disrespectful? To cope with the situation, here are a few suggestions.

Tips for Handling Difficult Patients and Families

Understand the patient’s perspective by listening more than talking


Stay calm, try to understand their perspective and make sure they know you’re listening. There is a good chance that your patient is ill, uncomfortable, and irritated because they cannot take care of themselves. Remember that sometimes people just need an ear and validation of their feelings – give them time and space to vent.

Build trust and remove communication obstacles

Whenever you are speaking with your patient or a family member, be sure to maintain eye contact. As the patient talks, pay close attention to what they say. Even if you have a to-do list, don’t glance at your watch as if you have somewhere to go. Pay attention to your body language and nonverbal signals from the patient. If you talk to them about your intentions and make changes depending on their input, you will build trust and remove communication obstacles.

Get Support from Co-workers

Your colleagues, like you, have encountered difficult patients and families. Sharing your experiences with other nurses might help you develop coping skills and remind you that dealing with difficult patients is an unavoidable aspect of the job.

If you’re experiencing difficulty with a certain patient, make sure to notify your colleagues. Explain the problem calmly and politely, and request assistance.

Set Boundaries

It’s important to express your displeasure if a patient or family member is disrespectful or insulting you in any way. When you express your emotions, be sure to let them know that you will not tolerate insults or harsh comments. Find out the reason for the abuses by asking questions. Anger, insults, and oppressive conduct are often masks for underlying emotions.

Keep a record of essential occasions

When dealing with a patient of a family who is becoming more difficult, keep meticulous records. It’s also beneficial to have eyewitnesses present at all times. Any negative experiences should be reported to a doctor, documented in the patient file, and registered in an incident report. In the case of a lawsuit involving the patient, your records may come in handy.

Make sure you don’t take anything personally

The best thing that you can do when something goes wrong is to just take a deep breath and remind yourself that they’re not purposefully trying to ruin your day. It’s important to remember that sometimes patients act this way because they don’t understand what they need, want, or how their illness affects them. So take a deep breath, go for a walk if you need.

I hope these tips will be helpful to you. Please feel free to leave a comment below and share any additional tips that have worked for you. Have a great shift!

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