How to Safely De-Escalate a Hostile Situation in a Medical Office

Posted by Practice Management Institute on Aug 24, 2021 5:00:31 PM
Practice Management Institute

Tense situations in a medical office are inevitable, and knowing how to de-escalate a potentially violent situation is a skill that every provider and employee needs to know.  You hope you never have to use it, but having an emergency action protocol and team response training will help protect your team when seconds count. 

COVID has sparked a sharp increase in healthcare demand and stress. Patients' tempers can flair over long wait times and unexpected medical bills. Overworked staff may become more easily agitated. Former disgruntled employees, patients, or family members could resurface with an angry bone to pick. A practiced action plan helps everyone stay calm and act quickly.

De-Escalation Techniques

You and your team need to know how to identify and safely respond to hostile situations that involve any type of disorderly conduct within the medical office. Knowing how to de-escalate a tense situation can make all the difference in preventing workplace violence. Here are a few strategies for defusing hostility. 

  • Do not attempt to argue with or provoke a hostile person. 
  • Try to stay at least two or three arms’ lengths away from a hostile person.
  • Listen and acknowledge the concern and consider offering an apology, if appropriate.
  • Use a firm tone of voice, but not an aggressive one.
  • Separate the person from other patients, if possible, but do not isolate yourself from the individual.
  • Signal your staff immediately for assistance using a prearranged distress sign if patients or visitors use profanity, make sexual comments, state that they are about to lose control, appear extremely tense or angry, or seem under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • If the person is violent or may become violent, develop an emergency code to alert office staff that this person is on the premises. 
  • Do not mention police or security to a hostile individual.
  • Find a way to excuse yourself from the room and summon help, if the situation escalates (e.g., “You’ve certainly raised some tough questions. I’ll consult my supervisor to see what I can do.”).
  • Dial 911 to report serious threats of violence, using a telephone that is out of the individual's sight. If you're unable to leave their sight, use a specific sign to your staff, so they may call.
For additional guidance, tune in to our free webinar this Friday on Workplace Violence & Safety Planning.

Everyone in your office should know how to quickly share a distress sign or code word. D.K. Everitt, a Certified Medical Compliance Officer with over thirty years experience advises his practices to use the office intercom to calmly announce an incoming call on a non-existent extension - a code word that alerts everyone to a potential threat in the office. 

You may already have protocols in place, but if you don't practice these techniques with the whole team, these tips are worth little more than words on paper. 

Improve Your Office's Emergency & Safety Plan

With incidents on the rise, medical office teams need to be ready to respond to hostile and violent workplace situations. Join us this Friday, August 27 for a live interactive webinar to learn more about safety plans your office needs to have in place. PMI' David T. Womack and Linda D'Spain will talk with special guest presenter Guillermo "Willie" Cantu about emergency preparedness techniques that work. Bring your questions so we can address your needs and help you be better prepared for emergency situations.  

Register Now

Topics: Practice management, medical practice issues, workplace violence, emergency preparedness, personnel management

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