Remaining Objective on Difficult Triage Calls
As a healthcare professional, providing quality care to patients is the number one priority. Most patients are friendly and thankful for the advice and care given, but occasionally a caller can be angry, frustrated or rude. Though difficult at times, it is important for triage nurses to resist the urge to react negatively. Nurses must be sure to remain objective by realizing that the anger or frustration is most likely not directed toward the nurse, but the situation in general.
So, how can a triage nurse overcome labeling a patient as difficult when emotions are running high?
As a triage nurse, it is important to step back and attempt to understand the cause of the patient’s behavior. Many times, the patient is upset or overwhelmed by pain, worry or stress, and he or she may not know how to effectively communicate symptoms or feelings adequately and become frustrated.
When a nurse fails to empathize and labels a patient as “difficult,” the quality of care can be negatively impacted. Instead of being happy to help, the nurse may talk over the patient in an attempt to be heard or lose interest in the patient’s needs. Neither scenario will accomplish the goal of triage nursing, which is to help the patient attain the safest level of care.
Here are 7 tips to help refrain from letting judgments hinder quality patient care:
- Breathe. Slow down, take a deep breath, and give the patient some time to express themselves.
- Empathize. Everyone wants their feelings to be acknowledged. Saying things like “I can understand how you feel that way,” and “I see this is frustrating to you. I am here to help,” can comfort the patient and assure that he or she is being helped and understood.
- Address the reason for the patient’s behavior. Once the nurse acknowledges the patient’s feelings and settles high emotions a bit, it’s easier to get to the real reason for the call – the illness.
- Ask questions. Engage the patient by asking questions to find out exactly what the problem is and what solutions might be possible.
- Document facts in objective statements. Refrain from using judgmental words such as “rude,” or “argumentative”. Instead, document actual behaviors such as “patient spoke in a loud, fast voice and frequently interrupted the nurse”.
- Focus on patient care. Rushing the patient off the phone can compromise care. Although difficult calls are uncomfortable, take time to help the patient.
- Involve the patient in developing the care plan. Make sure the patient is able and willing to comply. Perhaps a patient is too upset to drive safely to the hospital, or a mother has no one to help with her small children at the ED. Offer alternatives to ensure the safest recommendations for the patient.
Triage nurses hold great responsibility when it comes to patient care. When a nurse follows these steps while handling a difficult call, the patient will get the best possible care. Though challenging at times, the triage encounter should always lead a patient to the best possible outcome and leave a nurse feeling confident that they provided the standard of care.