Healthcare professionals are accustomed to dealing with a variety of patients and personalities. You may sometimes be challenged or frustrated by non-compliant patients, or those who may even exhibit aggressive behavior. Understanding the reasons behind non-compliance can help you determine the most appropriate — and constructive — actions or next steps. While you can’t make your patients do anything they don’t want to, you can develop a rapport with open communication and understanding to help ensure your patient follows directions in the name of compliance, safety, and long-term health.

What Does “Non-Compliant Patient” Mean?

It is common for patients to be unwilling to take a prescribed medication or follow a prescribed course of treatment. They may not listen to your instructions, and they may even become hostile or precarious in their refusal to comply. These situations can escalate quickly from simple non-compliance to actively threatening the culture of safety that behavioral health professionals strive to create and maintain. 

From mental illness to other mental deficiencies, there are a number of causes for non-compliant behavior. It’s important that those professionals entrusted with treating patients who have trouble fulfilling clinical requests or processing commands remain patient, resilient, and professional under all conceivable circumstances. 

5 Tips for Treating Non-Compliant Patients

  1. Be understanding. Put yourself in the patient’s shoes and make every effort to be empathetic, thus recognizing the challenges they may be encountering in understanding what is being asked of them. While this may be your intention with every patient interaction, we recognize that you are only human. Healthful breathing techniques may help you maintain rationality and professionalism when things feel unmanageable and it’s particularly difficult to be as understanding as you want to be.
  2. Educate. Your patient may be non-compliant because they do not understand the diagnosis or instructions for treatment. It’s important for you to take responsibility for helping them understand. Ask them to repeat back to you what you’ve said, or take the time to describe your instructions in their own words or words they understand.
  3. Document everything. While it’s already part of your daily schedule, it’s particularly important to maintain meticulous records when dealing with non-compliant patients. By documenting what you discussed with the patient, all diagnosis and treatment plans, and any questions or concerns the patient — or their visiting friends and family — may have, you’ll have a verified record to reference in the event of non-compliance.
  4. Set boundaries and enforce them. Sometimes a patient exhibits non-compliant behavior because they are stubborn or testing how far they can push your buttons. Don’t let these common personality characteristics frustrate you or disarm you. If you impose limits and enforce them with earnestness, you will help the patient consider the very real consequences of their non-compliance. Always be prepared to follow through with limits that you set, which is in the best interests of you as a clinician — and for them as the patient.
  5. Avoid ultimatums. Don’t threaten a non-compliant patient with empty ultimatums, but, rather, be objective when explaining their options to them, and try to focus on the positive outcomes of being compliant. Actively avoid a power struggle, explain the potential scenarios and consequences, but always give the patient their rightful choice.

Healthcare Compliance in Non-Compliant Populations

These actionable steps will help keep you on track as you manage multiple patients, needs, and directions for care in behavioral health settings. At InvisAlert Solutions, we develop healthcare technology to help avoid sentinel events that include self-harm, suicide, and elopement. Contact us today to learn more about how to treat non-compliant patients, or how our proximity-based tools ensure validated observation compliance.