In my experience so far, patients are often labelled as “difficult” in two separate but similar contexts.
- Patient is refusing further treatment/investigations or not following physician’s recommendations.
- Patient is very emotionally charged and it is extremely difficult to reason with them.
So I thought I would make a video describing examples of each of these situations and how I would approach them. Both are challenging scenarios, no doubt! But they’re not impossible to approach.
I like to think of the first case as a test. Your patient is trying to gauge how trustworthy you are in order to determine whether or not they can trust you with the issue that is the real cause of concern for them. It’s really as simple as that. Instead of trying to convince them of what they should be doing or scaring them with a list of bad outcomes they will face, you should be building a stronger rapport with them by listening and trying to elicit their real concerns. Only then can you address the issue at its core.
For the patients that are emotionally charged, there’s a very simple technique that I have been taught to use. You calmly look at your patient and verbally acknowledge the emotion or emotions that they are expressing. Just say: “I see/understand that you are very angry/afraid“, for example. Then, give that a second or two to sink in. Gauge their reaction, and go from there. Usually, especially if you nailed the emotion they’re portraying, they start to calm down a little. This paves a path for more effective communication with your patients and their families. It takes a bit of patience and a lot of listening on your part, but in all honesty, that’s your job.
For more details about the interesting cases that taught me these lessons, feel free to check out my YouTube video on the topic!