In the know: Dealing with patients who are unwilling to participate

Stressed Out Nurses Weekly, February 8, 2010

An obstacle to good behavior in patients is often their unwillingness to cooperate or participate. Nurses need to determine why patients seem to be unwilling to do what is expected of them. Some people are just plain set against making any changes or adjustments in their lives. But others may be unwilling to cooperate for less obvious reasons. It is very important for you to differentiate between unwillingness and inability. Your first step is to assess the patient to make sure he or she is simply not able to do what is expected of him or her.

Take a moment and talk with the patient about what is holding him or her back from doing what has been asked. What appears as simple unwillingness might actually be due to:


  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Inability to see the connection between actions and change
  • Inability to see the reason to change

When the underlying issue is addressed, the patient may then become more of a partner in his or her care. For more tips, check out HCPro's book, Stressed Out About Difficult Patients.

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