Physician viewpoint: How to care for patients you resent

Many clinicians may not want to acknowledge when they have negative feelings about a patient in their care, but such resentment or frustration is important to recognize and address, as studies show it can affect care quality, Joan Naidorf, DO, a Virginia-based emergency physician, wrote in a June 30 op-ed for The Washington Post.

This resentment against patients is not often discussed or studied, but is likely a common experience among clinicians, according to Dr. Naidorf. She cited a study of practicing internal medicine physicians who labeled at least 15 percent of their patients as "difficult." 

"For busy clinicians seeing 25 or more patients per shift, that is three to four times per day that they are left feeling frustrated, resentful, defeated or inadequate," she wrote.

Clinicians must actively avoid making rapid, harsh judgments about patients that could lead to inferior care, Dr. Naidorf said. She shared four key questions clinicians should ask themselves to identify and redirect negative thoughts about a patient: 

  • Can you imagine that the problems of your patients are your own? 
  • What else is true about this challenging person? 
  • Could you be wrong about your care plan? 
  • Can you give your patient or his family the benefit of the doubt? 

Dr. Naidorf also shared a list of steps patients can take to make their interactions with physicians less adversarial.

View the full op-ed here.

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