Advice For Nurses Managing Difficult Patient Visitors

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Nurses are the front-line of patient care and often spend time around their patient's family and loved ones. It's important for family and friends to be there, but in a highly emotional environment, sometimes those visitors can become a challenge. When a patient’s relative is intimidating, aggressive, or overbearing, it can be extremely difficult for Nurses to perform their jobs and feel safe. 

Here's some advice for keeping your cool with difficult visitors.

First Impressions

To start off on the right foot, get to know the visitors in the room by introducing yourself and building rapport. Be proactive and explain what everyone should expect, who else may be assisting in the process, and how often someone will be by to check in. Naturally, family members will worry and feel helpless. It's important to address any questions or concerns they have.

Listen and Acknowledge

When you start to recognize a visitor's behavior shifting in a negative direction, try to get to the root of the problem so you can diffuse the situation. Let them express their feelings and acknowledge their concerns. Try to understand the situation from their perspective.

Remain Calm

If tensions start to rise and the visitor becomes angry or aggressive, it is best to remain calm and keep a physical distance. Try to maintain a composed voice, speak slowly, and use a low volume tone.

It is easy to get defensive, but it is best not to escalate the problem with more negative energy.

Don’t interrupt them. Wait for them to take a break from venting, acknowledge that you’ve heard them and jump in. This gives you the opportunity to take back control of the conversation and guide them to a solution. Master De-escalation Instructor, Myra Golden, calls this ‘the jump rope technique’.

Draw The Line

If inappropriate behavior occurs, it is important to stand up for yourself and set boundaries. If you feel the environment is becoming unsafe, remove yourself and call security.

Not sure what to say? Resilient Nursing has some good examples:

  • “I am here to help. I will answer your questions and address your concerns, but I can’t do that if you are yelling at me.”
  • “We are in a hospital. I need you to stop. You are disrupting patients and visitors right now.”
  • “What you just did/said was not acceptable. If you continue, I will have to ask you to leave.”

Document

If any issues occur on the floor, you should let the Charge Nurse know about it. Also document the event, summarizing what took place and how you handled it. Not only is this good to have for legal reasons, it also makes other healthcare providers aware for the future.

Self-Care

Being involved in a conflict or altercation can take a toll on your stress levels. Be mindful of how you feel and take time to process your feelings. Do what you need to do to feel better. Try talking to a friend or coworker or try journaling.

But most importantly, don't take it personally. You are doing the best you can and are not responsible for someone else's bad reaction to stress. 

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