How to Deal with Angry Patients » Nursing Jobs Blog – Nurses Insights at Nursing Jobs.org

How to Deal with Angry Patients

March 13th, 2009  |  Uncategorized

You walk into the room, you introduce yourself, and everything you do from that point on is wrong. Every nurse has taken care of an angry patient. It isn’t pleasant, and many nurses are leaving the profession because they just can’t take it anymore. Here’s some advice. Use these tips the next time you run into a patient that makes you want to quit your nursing job.

Tip #1: Put Yourself in Your Patient’s Shoes (or in their patient gown).

The first thing that I do when I’m confronted with a beastly patient is try to remember that fear and loss of control are the two biggest factors that turn nice people into jerks. I ask myself how I might act if I were in my patient’s place. Patients come to the hospital out of necessity, not by choice, and many people respond to this kind of stress by lashing out at everyone around them.

Tip #2: Don’t Tune Out Your Patient When They Are Angry

I know that this is easier said than done. It’s not easy listening to a patient’s verbal abuse. Patients and their families want to feel empowered, not patronized when they are talking to you about a problem. Give your patient your undivided attention. Turn off your cell phone. Sit down at his or her bedside and really listen. Acknowledge the problem, ask about it, and listen to what the patient has to say. It’s not easy listening to angry words, but it’s an important skill to learn. Also, try to understand what the patient is really dealing with. Is the patient angry about something concrete, or are they dealing with grief? We can’t fix sadness. Sometimes the only thing that we can do is be empathic and validate the patient’s feelings.

Tip #3: Turn Down the Volume When Patients Start Yelling

I learned this tip from one of my early mentors. I was fresh out of nursing school when one of my patients went ballistic when I started giving her a bed bath. My mentor heard the metal bedpan hit the wall as it shot past my head and hit the hall. My mentor came running into the room and started talking to my patient. My patient screamed obscenities. My mentor responded in a very quiet voice. The patient’s voice grew louder. My mentor became quieter when responding to the patient. Within a few moments, the patient started lowering the tone of her voice so she could hear what my mentor was saying. The patient was then able to calm herself and she became less irrational. I’ve never forgotten this technique. It really works.

Tip #4: Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep

Your patient is demanding everything under the sun. They are yelling, and they are threatening to call their lawyer. What do you do? It’s really tempting to tell a patient that they can have whatever they want just to make them happy, but prepare for the fallout if you can’t deliver on your word. Keeping patients happy involves trust, and nothing will blow trust out of the water faster than a big fat lie. It’s all right to tell a patient that you don’t know the answer to a question, but it’s not OK to make things up as you go. If all else fails, tell your patient that you will ask your nursing supervisor to come talk to them.

Do you have a story that you would like to share about appeasing an angry patient? Drop by Nursing Voices and tell us about it. We’re waiting to hear from you.

Terri Polick
About Terri Polick
Terri Polick has been a nurse for thirty years, and is a published author living in Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. She is currently working as a freelance writer, and is a frequent contributor to Nursing Spectrum Magazine. Terri works at a local community hospital as a psychiatric nurse.

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