Healthcare professionals walk a delicate tight rope when it comes to providing care to their patients and managing the families. Often, even if the patient is able to make their own decisions, a family member provides some well-meaning but poorly thought out advice or has a list of demands. Most of the time these requests can be accommodated, but what happens when the family member actually becomes a barrier to you doing your job? Here are some ways to respond to a family member dealing with their own fear and frustration.

Be Kind

Whatever the family member is asking for, know that they are asking because they are in emotional pain right now. They are confused, frustrated, and sad. It is easy to have empathy for the patient because this is happening to them, but when someone is on the outside looking in and feeling helpless, they can be just as upset. Even if you have to be firm about asking them to stand down, always do it with kindness.

Understand the legal implications

There are, of course, extreme cases of family members intervening with medical care. For instance, some religious beliefs forbid with the use of any medical intervention and families will remove their children or loved ones from the hospital. These cases can be extremely difficult for healthcare providers who are trained to help their patients in any and all cases. It is important to understand when the family’s decision must be considered even if it goes against everything you would do as a professional.

Know the Patients’ Directives

By the same token, it is also important for your facility to know and understand the patients’ advanced directives regarding care, life support, and healthcare power of attorney. It is also critical that you go over these directives with the family members so they understand that you are unable to go against the patient’s wishes. It is not atypical for family members to be unaware of these decisions.

Know When to Escalate the Issue

Finally, there may come a time when you are no longer equipped to deal with a family member that is forcefully making their voice heard. If you cannot accommodate their requests, you’ve guided them in a comforting way, and educated them on the matter, but you still are unable to do your job it may be time to contact hospital security or, in some extreme cases, the local police.

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