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Rookie Wit & Wisdom
Defense Against Patient Complaints

I work in a relatively small ER: 24 beds including hall beds. I am a newcomer to this area, and almost everyone has experience in emergency medicine (in one capacity or another) for much longer than I have. Perhaps this is partly why I interact with patients the way I do, as opposed to the way I see many other nurses do.

From my observations, may ER nurses treat patients like they're stupid, like they're a waste of time, like they're a major inconvenience to the staff, especially if the patient's complaint is not truly "emergent". This attitude is often plainly seen by patients and their family members, which leads to friction, mistrust and complaints; it also effects if the patients will follow up after discharge.

I have observed that if you can come into the room with a non-confrontational, compassionate approach, and can convey to the patient that you are on their side, and want to make them better (by listening to their story from the start to the finish and really listening to what they're complaining about) you will almost never get complaints--or angry patients/family members.

Then you have happy patients... and your day gets easier as a result. We all know how stressful it can be to deal with 'ornery' and 'cantankerous' patients and family members, but 99% of the time, they are only upset and mistrustful because they feel they are not being listened to, or that they are being swept aside.

I'm not saying you need to sit down and hold each and every hand, and wipe each and every tear, but be aware of your attitudes. The patients can read you much better than you think they can.

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8 Responses to “Defense Against Patient Complaints”

  1. nursingaround Says:

    you have a point, and it’s always good to be reminded about our attitudes. It wasn’t until my own sister had a three sick young children and after the second week and forth doctor visit just couldn’t afford anymore GP bills and turned up at the local ED, that my attitude changed. I have a bit more understanding when ED’s get the non-emergency cases.
    All patients should remember to be polite, patient, and do not cause problems and you will get better treatment. People who take emergency care for granted, treat nurses like servants etc will keep on presenting and keep on causing trouble and I’ll keep on getting security to remove, forcibly preferably.

  2. Lindsey Says:

    I work in a mid-sized ED (49 beds + hall beds) outside DC. A good portion of our patients are non-English speaking and a large number of our patients are uninsured. Combine that with the gross misuse of the ED and it is no wonder why good nurses get irritated. I did not become an ED nurse to tell some 19 year old girl with 4 kids that she is pregnant again, only to know that we will be footing the bill for all of her prenatal care, the birth of her child and, I’m sure, the many visits of that child to our peds ED instead of their pediatrician’s office.

    I try to be understanding but these are the people who constantly complain about wait times, etc… I have just started telling people this:

    This is an emergency room, and your back pain that you’ve had for 6 years is not an emergency. It is going to take a while for our docs to see you as they are tied up w/ true emergencies and critical patients.

    It’s all about finding a balance… we refer all of our non-critical patients to the hospital-associated health clinic at discharge so they can have a place to manage their problems without having to have a PMD. At the same time, some days it’s hard to have ICU patients, codes, and critical patients and then have to go see your 4th patient who is looking to be put in a Dilaudid coma. It is pretty infuriating sometimes.

  3. Marla Says:

    I can totally appreciate this and I practice this everyday. Today, for example. One of my residents, (I work in LTC) said, “These aren’t my right glasses, I want the other pair, they’re in my drawer” so I go and get the other pair and he still says, no, not this pair, the other ones. I tell him these are the only two pair I see, but will look again. A CNA stops me and says, “He only has two pair, you are wasting your time” I KNOW he only has two pair, but I don’t want him to feel that I’m just blowing him off. I look one more time and bring both pair back out to him, tell him I’ve looked and these are all I can find, which pair would he like to wear? So he chooses one and he is happy that I took a minute to help him, weither I got the result he wanted or not. (and as the DON I don’t find taking a few moments to amuse a resident a waste of my time) Everyone just wants to be listened to and made to feel that they count. Especially in this environment. A few moments of TLC now prevents a major meltdown later.

  4. Jane Vanover Says:

    Very good point. Plus, the average Joe or Jane doesn’t know what nurses and dr.’s know about bodies. Especially their own. Some people are really un-educated about their own bodies. What seems insignificant to a health care worker, may be scary and horrifying to the patient. As, well as the hospital is both of the above as well. Treat people like you would want to be treated……..
    Gee, didn’t someone try to teach us all that….. at some point in time?

  5. andrea Says:

    Agree! I think the most important statements are: Listen. Folks sometimes just want some one to listen and that siginifies someone cares. And, check our own attitudes. I always felt ‘rushed’ on the floor and I think that was a very good thing to overcome. It’s true, clients sence our moods & frustrations and feel it’s directed toward them personally. Usually it isn’t but try to separate that our for a client!

  6. suki Says:

    Totally understand. I’ve been an RN for many decades and I get it. Too many nurses get judgemental and are just plain rude to patients. They don’t get it and probably never will. That is until it hits home. They need to be a patient and be at the other end of that stick. I detest nurses or doctors that talk down to people. They are sick! They need help! As I tell my co-workers that get nasty with patients or cop an attitude “they are why we are here” Whether we like it or not. Without them, we have no reason to be there. Have a heart, have empathy, common sense. I’ve yet to meet a Nobel Prize awarded nurse. Yet so many try to come across like they are the brightest thing around. Get over yourself people!

  7. marguerite Says:

    I think many nurses and drs get caught up in the stress and the daily grind that they forget how it is to be a patient. I am a nursing student and I have a chronic disease in which I am frequently a patient… and I think that every patient deserves to be treated as if they are you’re only patient. You should listen to them and express that you truly do care, even if you are in their room only once on your shift. How you made them feel for that moment you actually made time for them (how thoughtful)can do wonders to their psyche. They will remember the time they were in the hospital and how they were treated by their nurses and doctors for the rest of their lives. I was hospitalized for weeks at a time and I remember very well how I was treated and that’s why I am going into nursing. You have a much larger impact on their lives than you think. As much as you seem to “care” about them, do you think that in their time of need that they care about how many patients you have? No. Do you care about how many patients your co-workers have? Or how stressed and over-worked the CNA’s are? No. And about “misusing” the ER- I am sure that it gets annoying to have malingering drug addicts trying to tie up your time… but I have had to misuse the ER myself when my doctor decided to not accept medicaid anymore. I am a white, college-educated female with a pre-existing condition, no one will insure me, and I know very well I wasn’t having an emergency but I had nowhere else to go. And that’s how it is for millions of poor people who don’t have a job with benefits.

  8. Amy Says:

    Nice post!

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