Health practitioners have all had to deal with this same problem at one point in their practice: the Angry Patient. Patient care is never an easy task. In crowded hospital halls or in your own personal clinic, patients can get irate – resulting in unnecessary altercations with their doctors or with fellow patients.
Given the stress they are under, it is understandable behavior. But that doesn’t make it any easier than it is – and practitioners have to constantly come up with new ways to approach these people. If you haven’t quite figured out how to deal with them on your own grounds (or are perhaps looking to see how others do it), there are of course certain techniques that could help the novice and veteran alike.
Firstly, you have to be able to prevent these things from happening. Or, at the very least, try to. Stress is a result of the environment and the circumstances – while we may have little control over the latter, we can do something about the former. Try to make the office space as less stressful as possible by redecorating. Perk up your environment by adding the right amount of lights and the right shades of green plants. Repaint your walls with a little bit less red – to avoid any bulls charging about. Are there too many peculiarities and oddities laying about? Lessen the stress by minimizing the clutter. If your office is prone to overheating during those blistering summer days or the freezing cold during the winter, provide better air conditioning or heating. You can provide your patients with food and water. A vending machine will do but a free cup of coffee will perk up anyone’s day and won’t cost you too much. Be aware of noise pollution too – if you’re near a busy street, play some soft music to drown out the bustling city outside. It’s a worthwhile investment just so you can prevent any sudden outburst.
Secondly, address the issue for both your patients and yourself. The moment you feel that some form of tension is building – stop right there. Breathe in, breathe out. Then talk it out. Anger is often just a manifestation of bottled up stress and doctors themselves can only take so much before exploding too. Identify the warning signs: perhaps a louder tone of voice, clashing eyebrows, a meaner stare, or constant fussing and the like. This anger is usually founded on the idea that they aren’t getting the best help they can get. So, talk to your patients. Give them updates along the way and assure them that you are doing your best in providing them the care they need. Show them compassion and at the same time understanding and rationality, be honest but prudent. Sacrifice a bit of your professional air if only to show them that you care. While it is necessary that doctors have to remain emotionally detached from their patients, a little compassion won’t hurt anyone.
You’ve done your best to minimize chances of angry patients and address the symptoms at the earliest stages – but you’re not out of the woods yet. In every practice, anger will always be an issue. If totally unavoidable before it comes, you must know how to deal with it as it arrives. Practitioners have the shorter stick and are usually bereft of any power to retaliate – and the best thing you can do is to be good at deflecting all of it. A code of conduct has to be maintained at all costs lest your practice suffers due to the momentary outbursts of one patient. As always, keep a cool head about. If you really are at fault, don’t be so stubborn as to forgo apologizing. There’s nothing wrong with that and your patients will appreciate the honesty. Make the practice as humane as possible. It all goes back to being compassionate and showing empathy. Withhold judgment and do not let your patients dictate your practice.
However, If it comes to verbal threats or even physical advances, do not hesitate to call security or the police. The line is drawn when the statements go well beyond your duties as a practitioner. While they are patients of yours, that does not give them any right to trample on your humanity or name as a person. Be as absorbent as you can be – but not to the physical extent of it.
All in all, patient care is an ever evolving artform. There is no manual or set of rules on how to best approach situations such as these. What you can do is to look at it from the perspective of the patient. Then, you can work on catering your practice to those requirements. This is what makes the practice all the more challenging because every person is different. Always keep your head above water because your code of conduct and title demand these things of you. Learn to adapt to each patient accordingly – but never let them tug at you from all directions.