Dealing With Difficult Patients: A How-To Guide

7 Tips for Handling Difficult Patients
  1. Don’t Get Defensive. …
  2. Watch Your Body Language. …
  3. Let Them Tell Their Story and Listen Quietly. …
  4. Acknowledge the Situation. …
  5. Set Boundaries. …
  6. Administer Patient Satisfaction Surveys. …
  7. Be Proactive.

Early in my medical career, I gained experience dealing with challenging patients. I had to do this for the first time with a middle-aged man who was living alone and had no close family or friends. He was experiencing a number of distressing symptoms, including excruciating pain, due to an intestinal obstruction. At the beginning of my shift, as soon as I entered his room, he erupted in a furious rant of emotional abuse against the hospital, the nurses, and, of course, the doctors. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I found myself wanting to respond angrily even though I knew it was inappropriate.

9 Tips on How to Deal with Difficult Patients

How to handle challenging patients

Heres how to handle challenging patients:

1. Create a suitable environment

You can control the situation before it gets out of hand by setting up a comfortable environment for a patient encounter. For instance, if someone starts to get upset in the waiting area, you can take them to a different room so they can relax. They can express their emotions in private, ensuring that other patients are in a calm environment. A private room also removes interruptions, such as ringing phones and other patients, so you can focus entirely on them. Give a patient’s privacy and undivided attention when speaking to them on the phone as you would in person.

2. Schedule an appointment

If at all possible, schedule meetings with patients to discuss any issues they may have. Making this time a consideration can help you stay on schedule. By setting aside time to address their problems, you can reassure the patient that you are fully committed to ensuring their satisfaction.

3. Listen carefully

Try to quietly hear the patient’s situation and wait to respond until they have finished speaking. This method can aid in your comprehension of the entire narrative and provide you with ample time to formulate a suitable response. As you listen, you might inquire about details or exhibit empathetic body language, such as making eye contact and nodding.

4. Give an empathetic response

Although you might not have a quick fix for the patient’s issue, you can still respond in an empathic manner. Start by acknowledging their frustration and apologizing for any inconveniences. Then, you can describe how your team intends to resolve the problem.

5. Identify the cause of the problem

Try to pinpoint the source of the issue as you converse with your patient in the future. Knowing what caused the problem can help you choose the best course of action. For instance, you might be able to resolve a patient’s issue with insurance paperwork by contacting the insurance provider, going through records, or asking your coworkers for clarification.

5. Establish boundaries

If a patient encounter escalates, consider establishing boundaries. You can ensure the comfort and safety of patients and staff by outlining the language and conduct your facility accepts. To defuse the situation, try to leave the room for a while if at all possible.

6. Ask for help

Ask for assistance as soon as you need it if you need it to manage a patient encounter properly. For instance, you can refer a patient to a specialist if you are aware that they can treat their condition more effectively. You could also ask a more experienced staff member who has dealt with difficult situations to speak with the patient.

7. Repair the relationship

Try to mend the relationship with the patient after the issue has been resolved in order to ensure that they are happy with your treatment. After a week, you could get in touch with them to make sure the problem was resolved. You might also solicit their opinions in order to demonstrate how you can strengthen your abilities in terms of communication, focus, and problem-solving.

Why is dealing with difficult patients important?

Managing challenging patients effectively can have the following advantages:

Tips for working with challenging patients

Here are six tips for working with potentially challenging patients:

1. Maintain professionalism

Try to maintain professionalism throughout the encounter. Keep in mind that the patient may be unhappy with their treatment, not necessarily with you. You can encourage the patient to act similarly by remaining composed and sympathetic.

2. Use appropriate body language

Making your patient feel comfortable and ensuring that your actions match your words both require appropriate body language. Maintain eye contact when appropriate to show respect and focus. You can also use body language like the following:

3. Remain empathetic

Consider the situation from the patient’s point of view in order to maintain empathy. For instance, you can put yourself in the patient’s shoes and consider how you would want your health care provider to react if the patient expressed frustration with their care thus far. You might value how they clearly communicate crucial information and outline potential next steps. These little things can demonstrate your genuine concern for the patient’s issue.

4. Hire an interpreter if necessary

To ensure that patients who speak a different language comprehend their diagnosis and available treatments, you might need to employ an interpreter. Another advantage of using a professional interpreter is that they are usually more accurate and impartial than a bilingual coworker, a patient’s family member, or a friend. When an interpreter is present, speak to the patient directly to create a more personal connection.

5. Take breaks

Regular breaks throughout the day allow you to unwind and enable you to return to work focused and optimistic. To completely disconnect from work, try taking breaks and lunches away from your workspace. Consider taking some time to unwind, go for a walk, or have a meal so you can meet your next patient feeling revitalized.

6. Be proactive

Being proactive can help you prevent patient encounters from escalating. For instance, you could administer surveys to gauge patient satisfaction. If you learn that a patient has a common problem, you can use their feedback to address it before it gets worse.


How would you handle a difficult and angry patient?

7 Tips for Handling an Angry Patient
  1. Invest some time. An angry patient may occasionally be pleading for assistance or attention.
  2. Dial up the empathy. …
  3. Keep your cool. …
  4. Mind your body language. …
  5. Physically protect yourself. …
  6. Legally protect yourself. …
  7. Try to end the conversation on a positive note.

What do you say to a rude patient?

Here are tips that can help you get a positive response at the end of your interaction.
  • Stay calm and maintain good body posture. …
  • Actively listen to the patient. …
  • Respond to the anger. …
  • Remain calm. …
  • Reframe the situation. …
  • Acknowledge their grievances. …
  • Set boundaries. …
  • Acknowledge their concerns.

What is an example of a difficult patient?

1. Resistant patients. Patients who are scared, angry, or defensive may exhibit clenched fists, brow furrowing, hand wringing, and altered breathing when they first arrive. Additionally, before entering the room, staff will likely inform you of these patients.

What are 4 ways to deal with an angry patient?

Never lose your composure or allow the patient’s rage to control you. Never try to set boundaries by yelling, “Calm down,” or “Stop yelling.” Keep looking at the patient while the fireworks are going off, and just listen. Try to understand the event that triggered the angry outburst.

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