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Dealing with an Angry Patient - Quality of Care Patient Relations

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1-12. SYMPTOMS OF ANGER
Anger can take many different forms. One patient may express his anger by
becoming aggressive or abusive. Another may turn his anger inward and become
lethargic and indifferent. Still another may act childish or complain and criticize
everything and everyone around him.
1-13. DEALING WITH AN ANGRY PATIENT
In spite of the best "bedside manner," there is sometimes little you can do to
prevent anger. For many people, it is a natural response to illness. In these situations,
consider the following things to aid you in dealing appropriately with an angry patient or
family member. Keep in mind that you cannot expect everything to work every time.
Just use good judgment before responding. You can usually sense to what extent the
patient wants your involvement.
a. When you encounter an angry patient, you should not take it personally.
Remember that anger is a common response to anxiety, fear, or frustration. This may
keep you from becoming angry yourself and passing it on--to that patient, other patients,
or other health care personnel. Remember--anger is contagious.
b. If there is a particular problem or misunderstanding, respond as early as
possible by providing information or advice that could clear things up.
c. Express genuine concern for the patient's feelings.
d. It is often helpful to acknowledge the patient's feelings. Otherwise, he may
feel the need to continue to display his anger until someone recognizes it. And if he
does, he may be too upset to hear anything you are telling him. Just a simple statement
such as, "I can see you're upset," or, "I know you're not very happy about this," should
be sufficient. Remember, the expression of concern is more important here than the
choice of words. (See "Nonverbal Communication," paragraphs 2-5 through 2-7.)
e. Before approaching the patient, you may feel the need to give him time "to
cool off." When you sense the time is right, sit down with him and listen patiently. He
may need to tell you why he is angry. Or he may need to talk in order to determine the
source of his anger.
f. You may avoid intensifying the anger by "softening" your statements using "I"
rather than "you." "I'd like for you to get some exercise, "generally receives a better
response than "You really need to exercise." "I'd rather you didn't do that," is easier to
swallow than "You shouldn't do that," or "Don't do that."
g. When appropriate, you may be able to suggest particular activities to help the
patient work out his anger.
MD0520
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