How to Handle Angry Patients

As healthcare providers, it can be frustrating when patients appear to be angry with you or other members of your team. Therefore, healthcare providers should have an effective way to tackle these situations and prevent them from escalating. Here are some ways you can handle and help calm angry patients. 

 

Listen and allow the patient to vent

In many instances, patients voice their anger when they feel that they are not being heard. By allowing the patient to vent their feelings completely and without interruptions, you can often effectively de-escalate their anger. Listening to the patient in this manner can also help you figure out the root of the patient’s concerns.

Effectively de-escalate their anger

Apologize for the situation

Regardless of the situation, be mindful of your patient’s feelings and apologize for whatever is distressing them. When doing so, paraphrase back what their concerns are so they know you were listening. Do not try to provide an explanation for the inconvenience, as this may refuel their anger.

Be mindful of your patient’s feelings

Remain calm and be empathetic

One way to help your patients stay calm is to reflect a calm environment. Be gentle when speaking with the patient and legitimize their frustrations. Try and put yourself in your patients’ shoes and remember that it can be emotionally difficult to receive bad news or to feel unheard. Lastly, offer support.

Try and put yourself in your patients’ shoes

Do not argue or be defensive

While you may want to defend yourself when a patient confronts you, remember to keep the patient’s best interest as your top priority. Instead of arguing back, try to establish a partnership and align your goals with those of the patient. This can be done by finding common ground, reassuring the patient when appropriate, and providing your opinion in a respectful way.

Instead of arguing back, try to establish a partnership

Monitor your body language

The body language you give off during an encounter can subconsciously affect how the patient perceives you. In situations where a patient is angry, try to position yourself to demonstrate that you are listening and engaged in what the patient is telling you. Simple ways to accomplish this are to maintain eye contact and prevent yourself from crossing your legs or folding your arms.

Maintain eye contact and prevent yourself from crossing your legs or folding your arms

Set clear boundaries

Setting boundaries is an important way to establish a mutual respect between you and your patients and ensures the safety of those in the vicinity. Establish your roles early on, and if needed, step out of the room to regain your cool. Clearly let your patients know what you can and cannot do to alleviate their concerns, and make sure you follow through. Lastly, check up on these patients to ensure their concerns are being managed in a timely manner.

Setting boundaries is an important way to establish a mutual respect

Reflect and debrief afterwards

While tackling an angry patient can be emotionally draining, it is crucial to take a moment to reflect and debrief afterward. Be open and ask yourself what went well and what didn’t. Taking this step can help you better manage difficult patient encounters in the future.

Be open and ask yourself what went well and what didn’t

If you work in healthcare, chances are that you will be confronted by an angry patient more than once in your career. Using the strategies outlined in this article can help you approach these situations with ease, and improve patient care.

Navin Ramchandani, MD
About the author

Dr. Navin Ramchandani is a Medical Doctor, Diagnostician and Owner of R&R Medical Centre in Barbados. He is also an Advanced Pediatric Life Support (APLS) International instructor with the Advanced Life Support Group (ALSG), and a Pediatric BASIC (Basic Assessment and Support in Intensive Care) international instructor. His passion is diagnosing and treating/helping people with complicated health issues to improve their overall health and quality of life.

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