Understanding How to Deal with Difficult Patients

Posted on  November 2, 2017


Every part of a physician’s or clinician’s job is to aid, provide treatment for, and work with patients to resolve whatever issue they are having with regards to their health. This service to patients is why many providers pursued the field they are in and why they feel passionate about doing so. But there are always a handful of difficult patients, regardless of the field, that test a provider’s capacity, compassion, and willingness to endure. This can sometimes cause providers to give care that is less than perfect. With experience, many in the healthcare industry have come to understand how to handle difficult patients that put us in a challenging situation. Here are some strategies that provide insight into how to accomplish this.

Remain calm

It is important in moments like this to remember that you are not the motivation behind a difficult patient’s actions. It is most likely the situation that brought them there or something else in their life that is causing them to lash out. It is best to stay calm in these situations and not react to the ways they are treating you. Any negative reaction will only make the situation worse. If you can stay calm, you run a better chance at soothing the difficult patient as well. If you need to take a break, it is better to do so than to lose your cool and respond negatively.

Body language

An indicator that someone is uncomfortable or aggravated is the way they are interacting with their environment. It is essential that providers recognize how they move in their environment so that they do not make difficult patients more uncomfortable. Even if you are speaking with thoughtful and kind words, if your body and gestures are not responding so, your patient will recognize that and react negatively.


An important step for nurses who deal with difficult patients is setting boundaries with them. For example, with patients that are consistently taking you away from your other responsibilities for reasons that are not essential to care, let them know that you will only visit them so frequently. Set time limitations letting them know that you will be in there once every half hour unless there is an emergency. This also holds true for providers in the Behavioral Health field.  Time limits and frequency of visits will be essential boundaries to set up in the beginning.

Show Empathy

Difficult patients who are going through trying situations might be reacting to their circumstances. More often than not, it is not a patient’s intention to attack you personally. So, when dealing with these situations, provide empathy so they feel understood. Difficult patients are more likely to subside their frustrations if they feel like someone understands them or is at least trying to.

All of these tools will prove useful when dealing with difficult patients. Always remember to remain calm and recall that you are there to provide care to a patient regardless of their mood or reactions. Ultimately, if providers approach difficult patients appropriately, it will not get in the way of the quality of care they administer.

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