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Top 10 tips for managing difficult patients and situations

A nurse staff consoling and managing a difficult patient inside a room.

10 strategies to deal with difficult patient situations

As a nurse and healthcare worker, meeting and managing patients and their families is part and parcel of the job. When a patient is making things difficult, it often reflects their dissatisfaction, and as a nurse, you may run into all sorts of reactions, including defensiveness, anger, fear, demandingness, and other responses. Add in medications or diseases that can cause confusion, drowsiness, or agitation, and the nurses will have a difficult time providing the best care. However, whether their reaction is negative or unjustifiable, it is the duty of healthcare staff to address their concerns and tactfully dissolve the situation. 

In this article, we will be looking into different ways in which difficult patients can be managed so that healthcare professionals can provide the best care possible. 

1. Understand the problem:

To be able to fully assist an individual, healthcare workers should first understand what they are going through. An individual in distress may complain about the symptoms they are facing, but nurses should try to figure out the root cause of their actions. For example, a patient and their families might complain about various factors, such as the quality of food served and other facilities in the room, but these reactions are due to fear or uncertainty from a lack of information about their loved one's health conditions. 

2. Empathise with the individual: 

Try to understand from the patient's perspective. If a patient is screaming or getting angry at a healthcare staff member, it might just be a way of showing their fear or discomfort. With health concerns heavily on their minds, it is understandable that people will have mood swings. The fear, worry, discomfort, and helplessness they feel manifest into anger and agitation at the slightest discomfort. However, healthcare workers should understand that, in most cases, it isn't a personal attack but a response to their fear. 

3. Maintain good relationships with patients: 

By properly addressing a patient's complaints, nurses gain their trust, make them feel more comfortable, ensure they receive better care, and improve patient outcomes. This attentiveness frequently results in long-term partnerships, favourable feedback, and an improved reputation for the organisation. 

4. Listen to paintings: 

A person in pain will have so many facets, none more fascinating than our psychological appraisal of them. However, regardless of the underlying causes or maintaining factors for a patient's pain, it feels very real for them. When a person is in pain, it is irrelevant how much of the pain is organic and how much is psychological. It is important to address it first and create a plan to manage it in the future. Often, when a person is complaining about their pain, all they need is empathic listening rather than judgmental suggestions. In order to console family members and build rapport with patients, nursing staff should have effective communication skills, which are a must in the healthcare sector. 

Here are some pointers for making even the most difficult patients feel heard and understood so they can calm down and talk effectively: 
a) Maintain eye contact; however, avoid being intimidating. 
b) Pay attention to their body languages, such as their tone of voice, word choice, and body posture, as non-verbal cues help in understanding a person better. 
c) Never interrupt when they are trying to explain something, as it will be perceived as disrespectful and a lack of willingness to spend time understanding their problems. 
d) Acknowledging the situation will help the person build confidence and trust in the nurse and speak their mind. 

5. Creating suitable environment:

Creating a suitable environment for difficult patient encounters can help healthcare facilities manage the situation before it escalates. For example, if someone becomes upset in the waiting room, you can move them to a different room to calm them down. They can express themselves freely in private, while other patients can enjoy a tranquil environment. Give a patient on call the same privacy and attention that you would in person. 

6. Be proactive: 

As a nurse, you will almost certainly come into contact with a difficult patient or family. In such situations, healthcare workers shouldn't avoid them but instead try to resolve the problem. They would appreciate your attentiveness and proactiveness in approaching them to listen to and address their problems. 

7. Body language: 

While it is part of the code of conduct, body language helps to calm the patient and show your attentiveness. If a patient is agitated and you are frustrated, it can be difficult to find a solution for their problem. In such a situation, healthcare workers should calm down by taking a few deep breaths before they try to handle the situation at hand. Make a constant effort to pay attention to the body language, such as by sitting down and showing them your willingness to spend time with them and listen to their concerns. Adopt an open posture, such as leaning forward, and maintain eye contact, showing that you are attentively listening to them. Avoid defensive postures such as crossing legs and hands. 

8. Establish boundaries: 

If difficult patients are screaming at the top of their lungs or using profanity, nursing staff should take charge and set limits. Continue to stay calm, but firmly let them know that such behaviour is not acceptable and that healthcare workers deserve to receive respect for the service they deliver. It is better to let such difficult patients step out of the room so that they can calm down and continue the conversation. 

9. Figure out a solution:

Once you identify the issue, healthcare workers should assist in finding the best possible solution. Let the patients and their families know the next course of action in resolving the issue and ask them to keep updated with the ongoing process so as to ensure the problem is adequately addressed and resolved. It is always advisable to follow up with the patients so that they know the dedication the staff puts into solving the issue. This will also help in building rapport and trust with the patients. 

10. Connect them to additional support:

Comprehensive healthcare is required to support difficult patients. If a nursing staff member requires assistance to properly handle difficult patients, ask for help as soon as possible. For instance, if you figure out that a specialised professional can provide better treatment for a patient's condition, refer them to the concerned person. It is advisable to ask for additional assistance from senior staff, as they will have more experience managing difficult patients. 

With the advancement in technology, there is various patient management software that will free the healthcare staff from most of the paper work so that they can devote their time to better patient care

If you are looking for reliable registered nurses in the UK for your healthcare setting or any other nursing staffing solution, contact us. Nurses Group is the leading nursing agency in the UK, with nearly a decade of experience in the healthcare industry. 

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