How to Deal with Difficult Patients

Top 10+ Ways to Manage Difficult Patients (2024)

by | Updated: Dec 11, 2023

If you work in the medical field, you’re going to have to deal with a difficult patient sooner rather than later.

It’s inevitable.

Whether they’re angry, uncooperative, or just plain in a bad mood, knowing how to handle these types of patients can make all the difference in the world.

In this article, we’re going to give you some tips on how to deal with difficult patients. This applies to nurses, respiratory therapists, doctors, and anyone else who works with patients in the hospital setting.

How to Deal With Difficult Patients in the Hospital?

The first thing you need to do is take a deep breath. The patient is most likely experiencing a lot of stress or anxiety and simply just taking it out on you.

It’s important to remain calm, no matter how difficult the situation may be. Here are some of the best ways to deal with difficult patients:

  1. Empathize with the patient
  2. Let the patient tell their story
  3. Stay calm, cool, and collected
  4. Don’t take it personally
  5. Connect with the patient
  6. Never argue
  7. Set boundaries
  8. Keep stress to a minimum
  9. Control your body language
  10. Ask for help

Every patient interaction is different, so it’s important to adapt your approach to the specific situation at hand.

The tips that are listed above will give you a good foundation on how to deal with difficult patients. However, let’s expand a bit further on each one.

Empathize With the Patient

The most important thing you can do when dealing with a difficult patient is to empathize with them.

It’s important to remember that they’re going through a tough time, and most likely, they’re just taking it out on you because you’re the closest person to them.

If you can manage to see things from their perspective, it’ll be a lot easier to reason with them and de-escalate the situation.

Let the Patient Tell Their Story

Sometimes, all a patient wants is to be heard. In many cases, they just need to vent and let everything out.

If you can, let them tell their story without interruption. Just listen to what they have to say and try to understand where they’re coming from.

This is often one of the simplest (but most effective) ways to deal with a patient who is being difficult.

Stay Calm, Cool, and Collected

This one is easier said than done. But it’s important to try and remain calm during difficult situations such as this.

If you let the patient see that they’re getting to you, it’ll only make the situation worse. They’ll know that they have the upper hand, and they’ll continue to act out.

It’s important to keep your emotions in check and remain as calm as possible. This can be difficult, but it’s a crucial part of dealing with difficult patients.

Don’t Take it Personally

As a medical professional, it’s important not to take things personally. When a patient is taking out their frustrations on you, it actually doesn’t mean that they don’t like you as a person.

Their issue is likely not about you but about the situation that they’re in.

If you can approach the interaction with this mindset, it’ll be a lot easier to deal with disgruntled patients in an effective manner.

Connect With the Patient

Another great way to deal with difficult patients is to try and connect with them on a personal level.

If you can establish a connection with the patient, it’ll be easier to understand where they’re coming from and what they’re going through.

And after they begin acting out, it will be much easier to disarm the situation if you’ve already established a connection with the patient. In this case, they are more likely to trust you and hear what you have to say.

respiratory therapist connect with patient

Never Argue

Agitated patients may attempt to maneuver you into an argument. While you are entitled to your own opinion, it is imperative that you do not engage in a heated argument with the patient.

This will only escalate the situation and make it more difficult to manage.

Rather than clarifying why they aren’t getting what they want, just simply apologize and let the patient know that you are doing everything in your power to help them. Whatever you do, just avoid getting into an argument, as it will only make matters worse.

Set Boundaries

You always want to do your best to help patients in need, but you must do so within a set of boundaries.

Never let a patient push you around.

Sometimes patients will ask for things just to see if they can actually get away with it. Other times, they may try to take advantage of your kindness and ask for things that are unreasonable.

In either case, it’s important to set boundaries and don’t back down. If you do, the patient will only continue to take advantage of the situation.

Keep Stress to a Minimum

If you’re dealing with stress and personal issues while on the job, it’ll be a lot more difficult to sympathize with patients who are giving you a hard time.

That’s why it’s important to try and keep your stress levels to a minimum. We all have things that we’re dealing with in our personal lives.

That’s normal.

However, it’s important to try and leave those things at the door when you clock in for your shift. This can be difficult, but it’s something that has to be done.

Control Your Body Language

Your body language says a lot, even if you’re not saying anything at all. Non-verbal communication is a very powerful tool.

That’s why it’s important to be aware of your body language when you’re interacting with patients. Patients can pick up on even the smallest of cues.

If you’re tense, they’ll know it. If you’re uncomfortable, they’ll be able to sense it. And if you’re not really listening to what they’re saying, they’ll definitely be able to tell.

So it’s important to try and keep your body language in check. Remain calm and relaxed, even if you’re feeling the exact opposite on the inside.

respiratory therapist heroes

Ask for Help

If you’re having a difficult time managing a patient, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

There’s no shame in admitting that you need assistance. In fact, it’s actually a sign of strength. It shows that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to provide the best care possible for the patient.

And chances are, if you’re struggling with a patient, someone else on the staff has probably dealt with a similar situation before.

So don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s better to get some assistance than to try and handle the situation on your own.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with difficult patients can be a tough task, but it’s something that all healthcare professionals have to do at one point or another.

By following the tips listed above, you’ll be better equipped to handle these types of situations in an effective manner.

Just remember to stay calm, never take it personally, and always be respectful. If you can do those things, you’ll be well on your way to successfully handling these difficult situations.

Be sure to check out a similar article that we wrote on the skills that are required for being a respiratory therapist. Thanks for reading!

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.