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It’s not the patient, it’s their family! How nurses can deal with angry family members

| May 7, 2021 | Nursing License Defense |

Nurses have a difficult job, and that job can be made a lot harder when a patient’s family member loses their cool and gets irate. Regardless of what prompted their anger, you’re probably going to become a target of their hostility simply because you’re present on the scene.

What’s the best way to cope when the shouting or accusations start?

Basic rules for dealing with a patient’s angry family

Naturally, if the other party is being physically aggressive, you have to protect yourself. If they’re merely being verbal, however, try these tactics:

  1. Stop and listen. Let the other party have their say. As soon as possible, try asking them to explain exactly what they want to see happen or questions designed to elicit more information about their concerns.
  2. Don’t fire back. Even if their complaint is about you, don’t take it personally. They may not fully understand what’s happening with their loved one or why you did (or did not) do something. Take this opportunity to quietly and clearly educate them, if necessary. Remain professional and keep your voice level and calm.
  3. Apologize for mistakes. If the family member’s frustration with their loved one’s care is justified, acknowledge the problem (which you can do without admitting responsibility) and explain what will be done now or in the future.
  4. Enlist the family member’s support. You can often make a concerned family member “part of the team” in their loved one’s medical care simply by thanking them for their concern and asking them to bring future concerns to light right away. This lets them know you value their feelings and are doing what you can to address any problem.
  5. Alert the appropriate parties. Sometimes you may need to take a complaint to your superior or the patient’s care team. If so, make sure that you document your actions.

One thing is for certain: You don’t want to dismiss or ignore patient complaints outright. That can end up putting your nursing license in danger. If a situation gets heated and you do come under fire, working with a skilled representative on your nursing license defense is wisest.