It is important for medical professionals to understand how to defuse these situations, not only because verbal outbursts are unpleasant but also because they could escalate to physical conflict, said Stephanie Bown, MD, director of policy, communications and marketing at the Medical Protection Society in London, a nonprofit defense organization for health care professionals. “Doctors should be aware that aggressive situations can develop rapidly, particularly if a patient is drunk, mentally ill or a drug addict,” said Dr. Bown.
“They should also remember that the threshold for aggression may be lower than normal when a patient or their accompanying relatives are frightened, in pain or anxious.”
Once the cause of a patient’s anger is determined and deemed legitimate and the threat of violence has been avoided, the next important step is to listen to the patient with empathy, said Dr. Harkins. Tell the patient that you understand that he or she is upset about a situation, but that the response is improper.