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5 Tips for Handling Difficult Patients

Career News August 14, 2013

Nursing is one of the most challenging professions that exist, yet having to nurse difficult patient makes the job even more demanding and exhausting. Whether a patient is being physically abusive, verbally insulting, manipulative or overly demanding, nurses can take several steps to improve the situation and enhance their levels of care communication, so they can avoid harmful amounts of stress.

Focus on Your Quality of Care

Even though a patient may be completely out of line and unreasonable, it never hurts for a nurse to take a step back from the situation and evaluate the quality of care that he or she is providing. As assets, most nurses are short on time and may be in too much of a rush to clearly explain something to a patient. Another issue is that quite a few nurses speak in jargon and don’t realize that their patients can’t understand what they’re saying.

A patient could be frustrated, if he or she doesn’t understand a certain aspect of his or her treatment or condition. Before losing patience in a challenging situation, nurses should evaluate their care communication and try to take a little more time to talk things over and provide as much information as possible.

Listen Carefully

Often, when patients are angry, the first thing they want is for someone to sit down and listen to all of their complaints. There may be a crucial piece of information that everyone has missed out on because the patient hasn’t had an opportunity to express it. Or, it may simply be the case that the patient wishes to vent his or her frustrations and have someone sympathize with their situation. Nurses should try setting aside time to let patients express exactly what has been bothering them.

Remain Objective

Even if a patient is offensive or hard to deal with, it remains a nurse’s job to give that patient the best care possible. The American Society of Registered Nurses notes that maintaining a sense of objectivity can help nurses separate the care they give from any personal anger or backlash they are feeling toward a particular patient. If nurses concentrate on whether the patient is making progress—both physically and emotionally—it can help ease frustration with a patient’s other issues.

Consider the Root of the Behavior

Instead of writing someone off as a bad person, nurses should try to consider what he or she is going through. It is likely that most of these patients didn’t want to end up in the hospital and that they’re extremely frightened or unable to cope with pain or discomfort.

Certain patients may have bad experiences in their past that cause them to distrust or lash out at medical professionals. In other cases, a patient may be acting differently because of a mental illness or some form of substance abuse. Whatever the situation is, considering the reason behind the unpleasant behavior will help most nurses have a greater deal of sympathy and handle the issue with more professionalism.

Seek Out Support

Even after trying multiple techniques to avoid the stress of having to nurse difficult patient, most healthcare professionals still have problems dealing with bad treatment, violence, anger, disrespect, offensive comments or unreasonable demands.

In these cases, The American Society of Registered Nurses recommends that nurses seek out support from their colleagues. Sometimes an especially challenging patient can be better managed with a larger team of nurses that can give him or her the attention he or she wants while taking the pressure off of a single nurse.

If a certain nurse always has difficulties caring for patients who exhibit the same qualities, it may be best to consider those strengths and weaknesses when it’s time to make patient assignments. Nurses should also be their own advocates when it comes to requesting training programs and support to help them handle tough situations well before they arise.

Nurses often take the brunt of a patient’s poor attitude, bad hygiene, inadequate social skills or any other issues that may come up during treatment. Although these situations are unpleasant and present new challenges, nurses should implement these steps to give themselves the best chances at avoiding excessive stress and maintaining a high quality of care.

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