As hard as you may try to facilitate a healthy and positive practice, not every individual you deal with will be happy and well-mannered. Some patients will be suffering from severe discomfort or pain, while others will be frightened or anxious about their condition.
Different emotions and external factors can make patients to act in different ways, for instance, your organization may see patients that behave offensively and use abusive language, as well as patients who fail to show up for appointments at all. As a professional care provider it will be your responsibility to handle patients successfully no matter the reason for their behavior.
One important matter to keep in mind, is that when it comes to dealing with problem patients, you are not alone. Every office struggles with some difficult interactions, however this doesn't mean that taking certain steps can't improve relationships and facilitate better outcomes. Following, we will cover just some of the steps you can take to improve your encounters with problem patients.
Step One: Don't Take It Personally
In a clinical workplace, personnel often have a number of stresses to deal with on a daily basis, and when patients become hard to handle, it's crucial that staff members don't take it personally. Often, problematic patients can have some issue in their lives that is interacting with their mood. In other words: it's not usually about you. Try and help the person you are dealing with to slow down and discuss what you can do to help them.
Step Two: Know How to Communicate
It's easy to blame a difficult patient for a communication problem, but before you do, ask yourself whether you're doing everything possible to address and understand that patient's needs. In other words, do you know how to effectively communicate with the patient?
Start by trying to understand how your patient is feeling, and pay attention to their voice and body language — rather than just the words that they say. Then, when giving responses, as yourself whether you'd be happy with the answers you are providing if you weren't a medical professional. If not, you may need to slow down a little bit and explain an issue in more depth. Often, communication problems are by-products of the strict time-constraints that many clinical settings impose. Recognizing that you need to slow down with a particular patient can go a long way in addressing a problem.
Step Three: Establish Boundaries
Dealing with difficult patients is often a standard factor in any environment that facilitates numerous interactions with different people on a regular basis — particularly when those interactions involve health concerns. In some cases, standardizing your approach can help to reduce the level of emotions involved during communication, by providing clear boundaries from the start.
For example, if you are dealing with a patient who misses appointments, you will need to explain this disruptive behavior and the damage it is causing. If patients act in a disrespectful manner towards you or other staff members, then you can inform them that you will not accept this type of behavior. Explain that the interaction works on mutual respect, and as you are treating the patient with care and consideration, they should extend the same courtesy to you.
Step Four: Show Empathy and Acknowledgement
Remember that a significant level of disruptive behavior stems from underlying fear in a patient. Sometimes, managing a situation will be as simple as reassuring an individual, and providing them with more information. While speaking to a difficult patient, keep your tone level, and maintain eye contact to let them know that they have your undivided attention.
Studies have shown that around 80% of our interactions are non-verbal, so it's important to be aware of your body language, as well as the words you're saying. Don't look at your watch or stand with your arms crossed, and keep an eye out for non-verbal clues from the patient.
Step Five: Know When It's Time To Terminate
A lot of managing problem patients is knowing how to keep your cool. Unfortunately, however, despite your best efforts, there are some situations where you will need to take a last resort and terminate your relationship with the patient in a respectful and fair manner. Be sure that you know and understand your organizational policies for this situation, and explain to the patient why you are referring them to another medical professional so that they can get the treatment they need.
Although you should always aim to resolve a problem peacefully, there will be a termination procedure in place for a reason, and it's important to use this if it means reinforcing crucial boundaries.