How to Deal with Difficult Diabetes Patients

Posted by Chris Jackson - Owner | NCES, Inc. on 1/9/2019

As a dietitian, it is highly likely that you will have to deal with or are currently dealing with difficult patients, who suffer from diabetes. It is understandable for newly diagnosed patients or patients dealing with this disease for many years to experience stress and anxiety in daily management. These patients often demonstrate behavioral challenges that make your job harder. Difficult patients can test your compassion, communication skills and patience. (NUTRITION PSYCHOLOGY)

It is important to learn how to recognize the early signs of a patient who is going to be difficult. Then you will be able to base your education on strategies that will help them feel less stressed and open to trying to work with you. These next five steps will help you to better understand how to deal with those patients, who you just can’t seem to get through to.  

#1 Remain calm! It is important to remember the patient is not mad at you personally, but mad at the diagnosis of the disease.  In fact, it has changed their life in very disappointing ways. Remaining calm will allow you to keep control and address the patient in a way that will make them feel calm and open to the education that you will be providing them. (MyPlacemat for Diabetes)

#2 Engage in conversation: By using the patient’s name, maintaining eye contact, and speaking softly, you can try to draw out how the patient is feeling. Show the patient you care and want to help. Even if the patient is speaking negatively to you, it is important to make sure you avoid negative language as a response. Use phrases such as: “Let me explain,” “May I suggest?” or ask the patient to explain to you what they need to do to make the necessary changes. (21 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT DIABETES AND NUTRITION)

#3 Be empathetic:   Acknowledge managing diabetes is a lot of work, in fact, it often feels like a full-time job. Recognize and appreciate how hard he or she works to deal with it.

#4 Ask how you can help. If you have a difficult patient, who is resistant to taking any steps in their diabetes care, ask for specific ways that you can help (within reason). For instance, offer them a weekly meal plan with a grocery list to help them get started.  Offer to help them set up a blood sugar log and reminder chart, to check their blood sugars every day. By showing that you are there for them, is sometimes all a patient needs.  They need to know they are not alone in this process and they don’t have to be overwhelmed. (A GUIDE TO PLANNING MEALS FOR DIABETES)

#5 Offer Advice: You’re not the diabetes police, and you don’t want to make your patients feel like a criminal when he or she doesn’t “obey”. You can make suggestions or recommendations, but make sure they are nothing more than that.

Following these five steps, will help you keep the communication lines open between you and your patients, and will over time help your patients feel comfortable with their diagnosis and will help them start to understand the importance of managing this disease. (NCES DIABETES RESOURCE KIT)

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