What to Do When a Patient Disagrees With Your Opinion

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Nurses fill many roles. As caregivers, advocates and educators, we find ourselves called upon to meet many diverse challenges every day. When you’re doing your best to look out for your patient’s interests, few things are as surprising as having your help refused. What can you do when a patient refuses treatment or disagrees with your opinion? Though it can be frustrating, these reminders will help you deal with every disagreement in a professional manner.

When a Patient Disagrees With Their Treatment Plan

Nurses and other medical professionals spend their career honing their critical-thinking skills to evaluate every situation and come up with the most effective plan. When a layperson challenges these decisions, it’s important to control your knee-jerk reaction.

Consider Their Point of View

Prioritization is at the foundation of effective nursing care. From the day you first heard the ABCs of Airway, Breathing, and Circulation, you learned the importance of examining every factor in order of importance. When it comes to selecting treatment plans, however, it’s important to remember one thing: Not everyone shares the same values or priorities. Much research has been done into the complex emotions of those who refuse treatment, but the personal nature of such decisions makes the issue hard to define. Even when the proper course seems clear to you, factors such as personal preference, culture, comfort and even expense can cause the patient to come to the exact opposite conclusion. You may not share these values, but understanding them will help you handle disagreements with your patients.

Focus on Education

If you truly believe a grave mistake is being made, and you have sought to understand your patient’s opinion, fall back to education and informed consent. At times, patients may refuse treatment because they do not fully understand what is involved or what the potential side effects may be. As an educator, it is your responsibility to ensure your clients have all the information they need in order to make an informed decision.

Respect Their Final Decision

Regardless, your responsibility as the patient’s advocate trumps all other concerns. When competent individuals make a final decision regarding their health, there is only one option: To respect their rights. As a nurse, you will face many points in your career when the patient’s decision surprises you, but respectful support of their autonomy is one of the defining characteristics of a nurse.

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