Patient De-escalation: 7 Tactics For Managing Tension

Sep 25, 2023 | Blog, Front Desk, Healthcare

According to a 2014 study on workplace violence against medical staff in a health care setting, patient violence accounts for 75% of aggravated assaults and 93% of all assaults against employees. Managing moments of tension is crucial to prevent conflict between patients and your staff, which disrupts patient flow. To mitigate these situations, patient de-escalation strategies must be implemented.

What Is De-escalation?

De-escalation is the process of managing and defusing challenging situations with agitated patients in a clinical setting. Patients may become frustrated or aggravated due to reasons such as:

  • Long wait times – Patients may find the patient intake process or their stay in the clinic extremely time-consuming and want to receive treatment immediately
  • Unmet expectations – Patients had unrealistic expectations about their treatment and felt extremely dissatisfied when providers failed to meet them
  • Substandard care quality – Providers or your other staff may have inadequate services, which agitated the patient
  • Patient mood prior to entering the facility – Other factors or circumstances outside the clinic that caused frustration prior to their appointment.

Difficult patient encounters can happen in any healthcare practice of any size between patients and staff, whether they’re providers or administrative personnel.

To resolve these, your healthcare staff must actively de-escalate the conflict and maintain a safe environment for everyone in your clinic.

This involves:

  • Communication – Details about the patient’s grievances, as well as patient information when possible, must be actively relayed to the team to speed up identifying a solution and prepare for future similar encounters
  • Collaboration – Every staff member plays a vital role in resolving patient conflicts
  • Preparedness – Staff must be ready at any time to properly respond to tense patient situations.

    Why Is De-escalation Important In Healthcare?

    Failing to manage patient conflict can have a significant impact on your staff. In the long run, this can lead to:

    • Stress and burnout
    • Decline in care quality
    • Lower job satisfaction
    • Absenteeism
    • Fear in the workplace

    Thus, to have safe and sustainable practice management, you need to have sufficient de-escalation protocols. This ensures the protection of staff while maintaining a positive patient experience.

    7 De-escalation Techniques For Defusing Patient Conflict

    1. Active Listening

    • Analyze the person’s feelings to identify what caused them to become distressed
    • Avoid interrupting them and let them finish speaking before responding
    • Maintain eye contact and nod to show that you’re listening to them

    Listening is one of the most important de-escalation skills that healthcare staff should learn. It allows them to understand the cause behind the patient’s grievances while affirming the staff’s intent to help them.

    Why this works:

    Active listening encourages your patients to feel like their concerns are acknowledged, making them more likely to calm down.

    2. Empathy and Reassurance

    • Tell them you understand what the patient is feeling
    • Give assurances that you’re there to help them
    • Ask questions to gain more insight into their grievances

    Effective de-escalation involves empathizing with your patients and reassuring them that they will be assisted. Empathy also allows your staff to be more effective in identifying solutions for patient’s grievances.

    Why this works:

    Aggrieved patients may feel alone or alienated with their concerns. Empathizing with them makes them feel validated and encourages them to cooperate.

    3. Calm Verbal Responses

    • Use simple, easy-to-understand language
    • Speak in a calm, reassuring tone when talking to them
    • Avoid refuting, disagreeing, or causing confusion

    Using a calm, steady tone of voice and simple language facilitates peaceful, non-assertive discussions with aggravated patients.

    Why this works:

    Giving frantic, confusing responses to patients will make them more frustrated. They deserve clear, reassuring answers.

    4. Neutral Body Language

    • Keep an open posture and neutral facial expression
    • Be steady and relaxed when making movements
    • Avoid making gestures that seem condescending (e.g., folded arms)

    Gestures and other physical demeanors can have a substantial effect on the mindset of your patients.

    Why this works:

    Upset patients may react negatively to sudden movements, which may signal animosity and cause them to be defensive. Assuming neutral body language makes them feel more comfortable.

    5. Breathing Room

    • Maintain ample distance from the patient (at least 3 feet)
    • Give them time to think and speak
    • Offer them a private area to calm down in when possible

    Patients need to feel that they’re given time and space to express themselves.

    Why this works:

    Giving patients an avenue to express themselves is a strong validation of their feelings.

    6. Working With Your Patient To Find A Solution

    • Ask them for their feedback on how their grievances can be resolved
    • Manage the patient’s expectations by saying you’ll help them to the best of your ability
    • Relay your discussions to the rest of your team to ensure that they’re in the loop

    The aggrieved patients themselves may have valuable insights into how their grievances may be solved.

    Why this works:

    Collaborating with your patient promotes trust and opens the door to feedback. Even when you don’t find any solution, the patient will become more relaxed. It is also worth considering their medical history for better insights.

    7. Gradual Distractions

    • Slowly redirect the discussion to a neutral or positive topic
    • Use small talk occasionally
    • When possible, diffuse the tension by using light humor

    When no feasible solution has been identified yet, an effective strategy is to shift your patient’s attention away from the source of agitation.

    Why this works:

    Some patient grievances may involve impractical or unrealistic expectations of clinical outcomes. Distracting the patient with the aim of calming them down can assist them to think more clearly and to reassess.

    Defuse Complex Situations To Streamline Your Patient Intake

    Challenging patient encounters can occur at any moment while managing a healthcare practice. As long as you sufficiently prepare your staff with de-escalation protocols, you can ensure your safety while streamlining patient care operations.

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