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Management of the Difficult Patient - Article
ABSTRACT: All physicians must care for some patients who are perceived as difficult because of behavioral or emotional aspects that affect their care. Difficulties may be traced to patient, physician, or health care system factors. Patient factors include psychiatric disorders, personality disorders, and subclinical behavior traits. Physician factors include overwork, poor communication skills, low level of experience, and discomfort with uncertainty. Health care system factors include productivity pressures, changes in health care financing, fragmentation of visits, and the availability of outside information sources that challenge the physician's authority. Patients should be assessed carefully for untreated psychopathology. Physicians should seek professional care or support from peers. Specific communication techniques and greater patient involvement in the process of care may enhance the relationship.
ABSTRACT: Patients with personality disorders are common in primary care settings; caring for them can be difficult and frustrating. The characteristics of these patients' personalities tend to elicit strong feelings in physicians, lead to the development of problematic physician-patient relationships, and complicate the task of diagnosing and managing medical and psychiatric disorders. These chronic, inflexible styles of perceiving oneself and interacting with others vary widely in presentation. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., these styles are categorized into three clusters based on their prominent characteristics: cluster A, the odd or eccentric (e.g., paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal); cluster B, the dramatic, emotional, or erratic (e.g., antisocial, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic); and cluster C, the anxious or fearful (e.g., avoidant, dependent, obsessive-compulsive). Knowledge of the core characteristics of these disorders allows physicians to recognize, diagnose, and treat affected patients. The goal of management is to develop a working relationship with patients to help them receive the best possible care despite their chronic difficulties in interacting with physicians and the health care system. Effective interpersonal management strategies exist for these patients. These strategies vary depending on the specific diagnosis, and include interventions such as the use of specific communication styles, the establishment of clear boundaries, limit setting on the patients' behavior and use of medical resources, and provision of reassurance when appropriate. Additionally, medications may be useful in treating specific symptoms in some patients.
A Survey of Personality Disorders - Inside AFP