Disclosing personal info to patients

  1. I work in a small rural hospital. I work weekends only, 12 hr shifts 7a-7p. What do you say when you are asked quite often your religion, when you go to church, what church you attend, are you married, children, etc? I've even been asked on a Sunday no less, have I heard the truth concerning Jesus Christ and have I accepted him as my personal savior. I've been offered bibles that my religion would frown upon. I was born and raised Catholic but my current hours do not allow me to attend church, which I already feel guilty about. I hate saying "none of your business" which it isn't. Once, I disclosed to an elderly woman when she asked if I was married, dating or had kids that I had none of the above. She called me an old maid and said that the odds of me getting married at my age are less than me being involved in a terrorist attack. I've been asked the exact location of my house, my parents names, etc. Not all of these people who ask are elderly, some are middle age and should know better.

    Sometimes I feel like lying and say I'm married, with 2 kids, and I'm atheist and I live on Mars.

    What do you say when asked these questions? How do I tactfully put that their questions are out of line and have nothing to do with the care I provide? Oh, and I've been told countless times I'm going to hell for working on a Sunday.
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  2. 26 Comments

  3. by   Flare
    an old maid at 27!! Poor dear! You must be working on such a sinful day to take your mind off of that!
    Seriously. Some people have no tact whatsoever. And i don't want to hear old age or otherwise gives some people carte blanche to say what they want.
    In dealing with personal questions I would often just answer vaguely and change the subject. As far as having a patient lay into you for working on Sunday - well - someone's gotta be there. Would they rather be in an empty hospital because all the staff is worried about going to hell??
  4. by   crissrn27
    Well who the he-- would take care of them on Sundays if everyone was at church? I always say "I do gods work here" if I get the you are going to hell comment (for working on Sundays, if I get it otherwise, thats another thread, ). I don't go to church either, b/c I haven't found one I really like and I do work lots of weekends. Being in OB I talk about my kids alot, but we have lots of people that aren't married and have no kids, so I will ask them what they say when asked about this. If I really don't want to tell them about the family stuff I say "We aren't allowed to give out personal information, for safety reasons". Of course then you run the risk of having them say "well soandso told me all about her life". Religious issues I really try to avoid, but if I can't I'll say "I don't feel comfortable talking with you about this, would you like me to call the Chaplin?" And the next time someone says you are going to hell for working on Sundays tell them you will see them there, .
  5. by   DutchgirlRN
    Nursing is God's work everyday of the week but besides that it's nobody's business when you work, if you go to church, what religion, etc....I consider that personal information. I reply "That's personal" and let it go.
    I don't mind them asking if I have children, how old? etc...but I don't give out much more than age and gender. I have to get a feel for the patient before I decide how much I want to share with them.
    Last edit by DutchgirlRN on Apr 25, '07
  6. by   UM Review RN
    Don't ministers work on Sundays?
  7. by   TigerGalLE
    I usually get a feel for the patient before I go telling them anything. I really don't mind telling my little old ladies where i went to college or where i graduated high school. I live in a small town and usually I get to hear their stories of going to the same highschool or how they used to tailgate for the same college football team many years ago when they were young and able. If my patient is creepy and prying info out of me then that is one thing. But I don't see a problem in telling my patients a little bit about myself. It makes them feel they know me more personally and I think they trust me more.
  8. by   oMerMero
    When patients/families ask me if I am married or have kids, I say "no, I have a dog." That is usually good at changing the topic.
  9. by   Tweety
    There's nothing wrong with saying "That's personal, I'd rather not answer....."

    I don't sweat the small stuff and if patients ask if I'm married, have pets, family, etc. or go to church, I'm just honest. Usually they aren't being nosy, but just making friendly conversation and it's part of the nurse patient rapport to be friendly. No I'm not going into intimate details of my personal and spritiual life, but nothing wrong with say "no I'm not married" or "I have two dogs but no children".

    99.9999% the conversation goes well. And for the .00001 who says I'm goingt o burn in hell, or I'm more likely to get attacked by terrorists, I just let it go.

    I've been fortunate and most patients respect boundaries. I've never had one ask my address or very intimate details. You do have to set limits and politely say "I don't discuss these things." and let it go.
  10. by   Tweety
    Quote from oMerMero
    When patients/families ask me if I am married or have kids, I say "no, I have a dog." That is usually good at changing the topic.
    I was going to say the same thing. I always bring the conversation around to my dogs. I love talking dogs.
  11. by   arpeggiated
    I had an old grumpy patient one night. Snapped at everyone, complained that he couldn't sleep. I offered to get him some milk if that would help. "It won't do anything, I worked nights for 30 years."

    I asked him where, and it ended up that he had worked in a factory with most of my family members. I told him my dad and grandpa had worked there, and told him who my grandpa was. Everyone knows my grandpa. After that, he was a heck of a lot nicer to me, because he knew my family and that I was "good people."

    I don't give my full life story out to every patient, but I'll share some info if they ask.
  12. by   gitterbug
    Nothing wrong with sidestepping the most personal questions. My friend, an unmarried lady of 50, always says she kissed too many frogs looking for a prince and decided to stop looking and enjoy her life. Church can be attended by TV if nothing else. And nothing wrong with saying you do not discuss personal matters. One of the guys always says, "I'm too tired to look, I answer too many questions about why I'm single". Patients, got to wonder why they feel entitled to ask some of the questions they do ask. I think it is because we see the "tucus" more than their mates do at times. LOL.
  13. by   Bluehair
    I live in a small rural community too. And as previously posted, most people are just making conversation to be friendly, or try to get more comfortable with being a patient. We know so much about our patients, and they know so little about everything they have to deal with. I love to talk 'dogs' too (no kids). As for the church thing, it hasn't been an issue here. There are often other church services other than Sunday morning. People here are pretty practical and realize you can't close the ICU just because it's Sunday. More often we get thank you's for being there off hours/weekends/holidays. Sometimes the questions can seem pretty personal. If someone seems to be probing too hard, I ask them questions back (questions about them, not "why do you ask") to change the topic. Sort of the Jeopardy game approach. The more light hearted I can keep things, the better it seems to go. If I take things too seriously, it is more likely to go down hill.
  14. by   chris425
    Absolutely never share anything you are not comfortable sharing. Anyone who asks for the exact location of your home needs to be viewed suspiciously. Ask yourself, "Why does this person want to know where I reside?" Although I am not a member of the medical professional, I am in the unique position of being able to competently address the matter of Health Care workers' safety based upon personal experience.

    My mother, who belongs to this forum/group, is a Registered Nurse. Two years ago a patient began stalking her. The patient had sought treatment from her at a primary care clinic almost daily for a period of approximately one month. Throughout the course and scope of these clinic visits, he would attempt to ask uncomfortable personal questions (where she lived, etc.) which she wisely never responded to -- probably on account of her previous experience working the Psychiatric Unit. He then began stalking her, both inside the clinic and following to/from work, both covertly and overtly. Prior to the acts of stalking, he did NOT present as having any unusual problems - did not seem overtly nosy or creepy in the beginning (ie - could be a friendly patient -- and maybe not). I am fortunate that he does not know our exact address as my Mom feels strongly that based upon his history he would have appeared at our home had he known the address.

    All intermediate measures to include personally escorting my mother to and from work, police action, safety precautions/education proved ineffective in resolving the matter. Upon the advice of the primary law enforcement agency investigating this, she filed for an Emergency Protective Order, which the court granted the same day. He was even served with the Order by the Sheriff's Department the same day (in just about one-hour!), meaning the court's order had was now in full effect. Regretfully this was not sufficient. Ultimately she was compelled to resign her full-time position for safety reasons. During the subsequent court hearing to determine if the court's Emergency Protective Order should be lifted or remain in effect for three years, the patient completely lost it, reinforcing my relief over her immediate resignation. During the hearing his testimony was slurred, rambling and illogical. It focused on his belief that outside of the courthouse (prior to the instant hearing) he felt "the nurse" had approached him and yelled at him on the street by the entrance. This was actually excellent testimony because we had been late to court for the hearing and he was already seated in court upon our arrival. Not only was this witnessed by the bailiff, but I had also called to the court beforehand to advise that we were late -- traffic delays -- and asked the clerk to keep this case on the judge's morning docket.--The court was made aware of our delay en route.

    His behavior in open court, while on the record, was so inappropriate that the Judge not only ordered the Restraining Order remain in effect permanently, but also added additional restrictions than we had petitioned the court for in the first place. Upon learning the courts ruling, this patient absolutely lost it. The judge had to end the hearing prematurely and retreat to her chambers. The bailiff had to physically remove him from the courtroom. All doors to the courtroom were locked while the court's order was drafted and presented to the judge for her signature. In the interim he stormed into legal aid wanting the injunction overturned. They refused to assist. The bailiff assigned two other officers to keep track of him and they were in constant radio communication verifying his location within the courthouse facility and observing his behavior. We were then given a safety escort by the Bailiff who took us down a locked, private stairway leading to the back entrance. The bailiff advised that a restrained person would not think to look for her at the back entrance.

    I am not writing this to scare you in any way, as 98% of your patients are probably great -- or overtly nosy -- but not a potential safety threat. I do feel, however, that it may be helpful to learn how these safety threats occur and the effect they can have. Now especially in a small town, better to prevent any problems in the beginning than risk having a stalker. My other tips:

    - Letting someone down easy is always nicer when you do not want to answer them, BUT do not feel you must always do this. It is OKAY to just say "No". Do not dance around the issue with --- Ah, it's just we're not allowed to give that out per policy, etc.
    Just remember to say "No". No, I'm not going to answer that, No thats not appropriate, No I'm not comfortable giving that out or just plain NO. Any self-respecting patient will respect your response and probably feel bad for their intrusive questioning realizing it was out of line. Just the fact that you felt uncomfortable means the question was clearly out of line. If your 'not sure' then it probably was out of line -- especially when you take into account that nurses are NOT overly sensitive types to be upset by the slightest comment -- they are used to putting up with a lot.

    - I would be careful responding to questions regarding marital status. (Especially if you are single). I do not know if most nurses do or do not wear wedding rings to work. My mother actually did wear her wedding ring to work -- every day. I think it is a very wise thing to do. If worried about your real ring being lost (like if you wash hands a lot), consider investing in a dime store 'Wedding' Ring to wear at work. Consider it your male repellent ring. You will probably get fewer personal inquiries if people know you are married. IF YOU ARE SINGLE: Wear a ring. When your fellow colleagues inquire, let them know its for safety reasons.

    - When you are asked a question, wonder WHY they are asking. Like where do you live (generally) might be okay -- if your comfortable with that -- but EXACT address. I'm more concerned with WHY does this person wish to know? Do they plan on 'visiting'? or are they just too stupid to realize that is not appropriate to ask. Also, I can understand a little old lady type asking, but a man (middle-aged or around your age) asking is just not right. I could see maybe a patient whose like a realtor asking out of habit like they do all and that would not raise alarm bells that they asked (although I would politely decline). I think any respectful male -- myself included -- would never ask where the nurse lives -- particularly a female nurse.

    - For comments that are rude, just don't stand for it. Illness is not a license to be rude. As a nurse you treat the whole person, whether they like it or not. Try 'treating' their poor behavior by putting them where they belong. In addition to the other suggestions made by posters preceding me, you could probe them. Why am I going to hell for working on Sunday? or Would you like to be discharged right now (and not return until Monday) while the entire staff attends church and observes the sabbath? or "Ahhh, your right. I'll just withhold all your medication and oxygen and other treatment for the rest of the day so I can pray/worship/visit chapel so I don't have to worry about the eternal wrath" I think you should just tell them that was rude. Additionally, you could matter of factly document their comment in the chart -- and *genuinely* tell patient your concerned about their mental well-being since their making illogical comments (think it really is illogical if they feel the person HELPING and caring for them is going to hell -- particularly over something so mundane -- if they feel this way towards someone helping them maybe they really do have a problem!) Going the psych/concerned route might shut them up real fast.

    - Religion & Politics. I always avoid this in virtually all relationships, be it personal or professional unless I already know that said person and I agree on the same principles and philosophies.

    - Moderation. I believe that it is wholly appropriate to discuss personal information with patients, if it is the providers choosing. Just use your judgment if you WANT to share something personal with a patient. I'm going to go a bit off topic here ... since I'm sitting just waiting for a call right now ... I for one had a medical professional (PT) that was rendering treatment to me who I came to know well over the course of prolonged physical therapy appointments on a daily to every other day basis over several weeks following major surgery. We had come to like one another well -- same values -- liked to compare family photos (my pet, her child, etc) and during my final week she just out of nowhere went from saying how much she wanted another child to sharing (announcing) details of her expensive and frustrating attempts at getting pregnant (fertility). She did not say this one just one day -- like a being frustrated in the moment type thing. Rather, for the next several visits she talked about this (during down time) and over time offered updates when I saw her again. Although a bit unconventional (and I'm sure some would criticize her for sharing such information), she did use good judgment in that she did not announce this to all patients and only to a patient whom she both trusted and liked. From my prospective, it was quite helpful. After I stopped squirming over the topic, (my face turned red at first when the topic arose - but was face down on PT table) it actually made me feel better ... because despite my quite serious health status just at that time, it reminded me of the serious problems that other people were facing. To hear this from a health provider helped me to view her more as a person -- and to like and respect her more. After all here she was working all day with the more complex patients who had problems -- helping them -- but never once complaining about her own problems. Knowing her problem -- and heartbreak -- caused me to have greater respect and admiration for her.

    Also there was one other time when a fair amount of personal information was shared. Five years ago I was admitted through the ER at 3am for an infection following a procedure. The RN I was assigned to was quite friendly (and it was dead when I arrived from the ER at 3am). When I saw the nurse I was quite surprised because she looked like she was my age -- I was 19 years old at that time. I was a little surprised when this friendly young woman wearing a bear mid-drift who looked like she was still a college student introduced herself as the nurse when I was wheeled off the elevator (the 40 yo woman nearby was not the nurse -- but the aid). After she got my history/medication, etc, she just hung out and chatted for a long time. We really had a lot in common and just clicked. After we started talking about our respective educational backgrounds (she had just received a 2 year nursing (RN) degree and I was a Junior in college) we started comparing each others birth dates and realized we were born within two weeks of one another in the same year. I never would outright inquire about her age, much less DOB just out of the blue. It just arose in the course of mutual conversation (not direct questioning). We were both ahead in our grades by about a year for our age. We just really clicked on the peer to peer level and chatted for a long time about schooling, where we were from (she was a travel RN from Virginia), the type of housing the agency put her up in, etc. She was just really cool and the best nurse in that hospital during my stay (this was a hospital that lost its JACHO accreditation shortly thereafter). My Mother even noted that this 19yo RN (and travel nurse no less) was the best out of all the nurses -- both ER & upstairs nurses). In that I was admitted for a serious, yet still unknown condition/prognosis it was really great to be able to connect with a nurse on the peer-to-peer level. Having that peer connection with the nurse treating me made it easier because once we connected as peers it made the medical aspect easier. She was able to relay to me the technical and medical information just like a peer in a social conversation. So that connection was quite good.



    Finally, I have safety related resources in the form of professional articles, journals, occupational specific guides geared specifically for Health care Workers, to include OSHA's most current Health Care Worker Safety guide, that I would be willing to furnish to anyone. I am pleased to have been able to share this quite detailed information with others who may find themselves in the unfortunate position where they can benefit from the information contained herein.

    On a personal level, best of luck to both you and anyone in this situation. Please feel free to direct any inquiries or requests for publications to me through the e-mail feature of this account.

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