5 Tips for Nurses Handling Difficult Patients

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Dealing with a difficult patient makes a nurse’s challenging job even more demanding and exhausting. Whether a patient is physically abusive, verbally insulting, manipulative or overly demanding, nurse leaders can coach newer nurses on ways to improve the situation and enhance their level of care and communication to 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 NursingUniforms.net notes, many nurses are short on time and may fail to explain something clearly to a patient. Many nurses also speak in jargon and don’t realize their patients can’t understand what they’re saying.

A patient can become frustrated if he doesn’t understand a certain aspect of his treatment or condition. Before losing patience in challenging situations, nurses should evaluate their care communication and try to take 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 someone to sit down and listen to all of their complaints. There may be a crucial piece of information that everyone has missed because that patient hasn’t had an opportunity to express it. Or maybe the patient wishes to vent her frustrations and have someone sympathize with her situation. Nurses should try setting aside time to let patients express exactly what is 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 says 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 focus 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 that patient is going through. Few patients want to end up in the hospital, and it’s likely that they’re extremely frightened or unable to cope with pain or discomfort.

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

Seek support

Even after trying multiple techniques to avoid the stress of having to nurse a difficult patient, many health care professionals still have problems dealing with mistreatment, violence, anger, disrespect, offensive comments or unreasonable demands.

In these cases, the American Society of Registered Nurses recommends seeking support from colleagues. Sometimes an especially challenging patient can be better managed with a larger team of nurses that can give the patient the attention desired while reducing pressure on a single nurse.

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

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

edited by Colin Seymour

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