Guidance and Support for Handling Unruly Patients

It is a challenging time to work in healthcare. Hospital systems are pushed to their limits, healthcare workers are physically and emotionally exhausted and COVID-19 infection rates continue to soar. Adding to the strain is an increasing number of disruptive patients. In fact, an article by MGMA states that 71% of medical practices saw their levels of disruptive patients increase in 2021.

We recognize that physicians and healthcare providers face a variety of challenging patient interactions each day, some of which may be violent. These tips from may help defuse situations with difficult patients:

  1. Reflect on interactions to identify personal reasons why a moment might be challenging, rather than blaming the patient. 
  2. Acknowledge existing tension, if present.
  3. Find ways to relieve stress outside of work to stay grounded in clinical interactions.
  4. Make an effort to understand the patient’s perspective.
  5. Allow the patient to express their emotional needs.
  6. Avoid defensive posturing and keep the focus on the patient.
  7. Channel your empathy.
  8. Set boundaries to enforce rules, such as when patients may raise their voice or use profanity.
  9. Be aware of your body language.
  10. Involve other experts, such as a social worker or chaplain, when needed.

To cope with these issues on a larger institutional level, Harvard Business Review recommends that health systems:

  • implement safety training for employees;
  • remind individuals to take responsibility for their behavior;
  • recognize trauma;
  • encourage growth and healing; and
  • develop concrete policies.

We applaud New York State healthcare workers for remaining committed to patient health and healing despite the challenges of the past few years. For further COVID-19-related developments and support, please visit MLMIC’s dedicated resources page.