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Carrington College Blog

How to best work with patients’ families

February 6, 2015

Examples of how to deal with difficult patients and their families.With any career in medicine, it’s important to remember that your care will always affect more individuals than just the patient that you are treating. Their loved ones and families are also benefiting from the procedures and care that these individuals are undergoing, and they’re going to want to be looped in at every stage of the process, more likely than not.

These family members can be a great asset to doctors, certified medical assistants and nurses, but there are also plenty of moments when they tend to make the process more cumbersome. While dealing with difficult patients’ families can be an extremely unpleasant experience, the number of instances in which it occurs can be reduced through following some guiding best practices.

Whether you’re already an experienced medical professional or are just beginning your career, you may benefit from taking a look at these tips on dealing with patients’ families:

Truly listen

Believe it or not, there is actually a large and distinguishable difference between hearing what someone is saying and listening to them. As the Healthcare Provide Service Organization has pointed out, it’s extremely important to stop talking and genuinely listen to the families of patients when they are speaking with you.1

This will not only afford you the knowledge necessary to meet their requests as best you can, but it will also convey a sense of respect and instill trust in the patient and their family. They will feel more comfortably knowing that they are working with a professional, respectful and responsible staff, and this will only make your job easier.

Regardless of how busy your day is or how stressed you are, always make time to actually listen to the patient and their loved ones.

Take legal threats seriously

While you may never have to deal with any sort of threat from a patient or their family, it’s incredibly important that you’re prepared to do so should the situation arise. Nurse Together has reported that patients or their families will occasionally threaten legal action against an institution or one of their employees.2

If you find yourself in this situation, regardless of how serious the threat seems, respond professionally and immediately inform your managing doctor or supervisor. They will know how to best respond to the comment and will be able to instruct you further. While these things are often said in the heat of the moment, you never know if it could evolve into a much larger problem, and it’s best to be prepared.

Your attitude is contagious

This should be somewhat obvious, but it is never reasonable or appropriate to respond to a difficult patient or patient family member with negativity of your own. This will only escalate the situation unnecessarily and can lead to problems for you and your practice. Always treat patients and their loved ones with the same level of compassion and professionalism that you would anyone else. Your positive attitude will likely be well received and reciprocated, easing the process of patient care and communication overall.

1) The Healthcare Provider Service Organization, ‘Handling the Angry Patient,’ 2013,

2) Anderson, Lanette, Nurse Together, ‘6 Ways Nursing Professionals Deal With Difficult Patients,’ 12/29/2014,