At the Sleep Center: How to Deal with Difficult Patients

Some patients who come to a sleep center can be difficult, so much so that at the end of a consultation, doctors and sleep technicians feel frustrated or angry. There are simple, effective strategies to deal with such situations. Almost every person in the healthcare field has come across at least one such patient. Researchers have developed strategies that can help professionals in the healthcare field handle difficult patients. Here are a few strategies that can be used by doctors, technicians and other professionals who interact with patients at a sleep center:


Identifying patients who are difficult is a crucial step in dealing them. This will help doctors and technicians be better prepared to deal with the requirements of these patients. Four types of difficult patients have been identified. They are - clingers, demanders, deniers and help rejecters. Clingers are patients who rely a lot on the doctor. Demanders state their needs all the time, but in a commanding way. Help rejecters repeatedly seek treatment claiming that the previous one failed but donít have faith in it. Deniers are quite resistant to help. They will be reluctant to make any changes to their behavior.

Situation: Patient refusing treatment

When some patients are referred for treatment, they may not want to go through it. Even though a few such patients come in for a consultation, they will most likely end up refusing treatment. It is important to deal with these patients without judging them. This is possible if a healthcare professional understands that there may be factors that trigger a patient's resistance to treatment. 


Experts recognize that patients generally have a mental or physical condition that makes them resistant to treatment. Also, the patients are generally sleep deprived when they come in for a consultation. In that case, they will most likely be fatigued and irritated. 


If they have been deprived of sleep for a long time, patients are likely to experience confusion, loss or lapse of memory and high blood pressure. These effects may trigger strong emotional responses to situations. Lack of a good support system and isolation from family or community may also make sleep deprived patients feel depressed. This will affect their ability to take the right decision regarding their treatment. With such patients, it is best to discuss the risks of not going in for treatment. After that, the physician or sleep technician should step back and let the patient decide.

Situation: Patient being very demanding 

When a patient at the sleep center is being difficult by making too many demands, the physician should let him know that he has the doctor's attention. The best way to show this is to sit down and listen when the patient is talking. Patients generally consider doctors to be in a hurry when they remain standing during a conversation. This can aggravate negative emotions. 


By sitting down, a doctor shows the patient that he is wiling to spend time to listen to what is being said. Allowing patients to discuss how they are feeling, acknowledge it and empathize, will make them feel heard. It is important to observe the patient when he is talking. This will help pick cues regarding their emotional state. 

Situation: Patient being overly compliant

An overly compliant patient may seem easy to deal with, but over time, this can escalate feelings of fear and vulnerability and transfer them to anger. Give patients the chance to feel involved in the decisions being taken. For instance, a patient may have to go on a different diet, but there maybe more than one type he can go for. Let him know that he can choose between them. Ask the patient direct questions about what his opinion is about a course of action. Encourage the patient to express how he feels and validate it. 

Situation: Patient is extremely anxious 

Patients tend to become quite difficult to handle when they are anxious. This is especially so when they are at a sleep center for the first time. If they are unfamiliar with the set-up in the center, they may feel out of place. When you take measures to make sure that patients feels at ease at the center, they will be less likely to be difficult. Ensure that the staff - especially nurses and lab technicians - at the sleep center, who interact with patients, are also aware of this. 


Patients generally cheer up when they have a person they are familiar with, like a friend or a relative, around them. If a patient is coming in for an overnight study, allow him to bring a person along. The relative or friend can be allowed to stay till the patient gets familiar with the sleep center. This will help the patient feel relaxed. 


When dealing with any patient, irrespective of whether he is difficult or not, it is important to set some boundaries. It is best to do this at the outset so patients know what to expect from their interaction with the staff at the center. 

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