Have you ever lashed out at a medical provider? Did you apologize or did you figure they would probably understand?
Again and again I hear stories about how “I told her (him) off,” meaning how a patient or family member voiced their anger about a situation with the medical provider. In any number of cases, such as when the provider was actually correct, the treatment was successful, or the person was no longer in pain or anxious, I’ve asked whether they’ve apologized to the provider for lashing out. It’s not uncommon for them to say, “No, but they understand as probably other patients do that;” or “I was in a lot of pain.” In fact, a lot of people, including administrators, other providers as well as patients and caregivers think provider abuse just goes with the territory.
Since 80-97% of healthcare providers experience verbal abuse by their patients, this is a serious issue. No one gets use to being trashed, no matter how understanding they are of the situation, or how many times their colleagues tell them “don’t take it personally.” As one nurse wrote about a patient who said, “That hurt, you stupid bitch,” “his hostile comments felt personal, and they devastated me emotionally.
Patients who verbally abuse their providers not only change how the providers responds-research indicates that quality of care is actually reduced in these situations-but it also is a reason why nurses and other providers leave the field.
What you can do:
• Think before you speak.
• Apologize if you have said something or acted inappropriately or hurtful.
• If you are frustrated with your provider-maybe you conflict about treatment or don’t like their personality- change providers. If that’s not possible, work with a neutral third party to try and resolve conflicts.
• Get in touch with what is upsetting you and making you lash out. Do you feel vulnerable or powerless? Are you angry with the situation you are in? Has someone said something you find objectionable or do you have a justified reason for being upset with your provider? Situations where you feel frustrated lead you to say things you may not ordinarily say. By lashing out, you could loose a really good provider unintentionally.
• If you know you are more apt to say things when you are in pain, scared, anxious or when taking certain medications let your provider know in advance.
• Recognize what upsets you about a given situation and try not to take it out on other people.