Best advice for when a patient insists on asking you personal/awkward questions?

  1. 1 Once upon a time, I was caring for a patient during one of my school rotations. This was around the time of the election, and his family were having a very heated political discussion amongst themselves. This is always a red flag for me, as I never get involved in political conversations with anyone if I can help it-- all it brings is negativity and arguments, both of which are counterintuitive to the nurse-patient relationship. I simply go on about taking care of my job, smile, and say nothing about it. All shift long, we seemed to have had great rapport, and we were all getting along very well.

    I thought that being ambiguous and keeping my head down would help me avoid it.

    I was wrong.

    One of the family members kept asking me about my political affiliation and who I voted for. I smiled and gently rebuffed her by saying that my political are deeply personal to me and that my vote and my beliefs are kept private. But she wasn't satisfied with my answers and kept asking me about it, over and over.

    Who did you vote for? Who are you gonna vote for? How do you feel about so-and-so? Who did you vote for?

    I don't even know why it was so important to them to find out, anyway. We don't have matching opinions about the subject of debate (I am a conservative, while the family held democratic beliefs), which was why I was so insistent about sidestepping the conversation. Things would have gone south immediately.

    I kept giving her the same answer, and eventually she backed off. While things remained largely pleasant for the rest of my shift, they seemed somewhat less comfortable with me than they had been before, as if I'd given them reason to mistrust me.

    This has also not been the first time this has happened to me before, either. Some examples:
    1. People asking me why nobody has gotten me with child yet (?!?! )
    2. What my orientation is (same person as #1)
    3. What my religion is (I can understand this one, but I am agnostic and the people asking me are usually extremely religious, so dealing with it is difficult for me)

    This thread does not strictly have to concern politics, but rather personal or intimate questions in general. I was wondering if any of you have any special ways of nixing these ill-fated conversations? What is the best way to back out of these trap conversations and still remain professional about it?

    ~Ceylon
  2. Visit  ScarletCeylonRN profile page

    About ScarletCeylonRN

    From 'San Antonio, TX, US'; Joined Jul '13; Posts: 20; Likes: 13.

    11 Comments so far...

  3. Visit  omgreally profile page
    1
    I usually try to reply with a humorous response, and then redirect or turn the question back to them. I feel like if I respond in a way that is overly stiff or formal, things will become uptight. Be light, be funny, continue to rebuff.
    CountyRat likes this.
  4. Visit  ScarletCeylonRN profile page
    1
    7:20 pm by omgreally
    I usually try to reply with a humorous response, and then redirect or turn the question back to them. I feel like if I respond in a way that is overly stiff or formal, things will become uptight. Be light, be funny, continue to rebuff.
    I use that that tactic as much as possible and find that it works very well in most cases. But some of the more insistent/intrusive people refuse to be redirected. I'm not as sure what to do about them, because they're aware of the tactic and actively combatting it.
    CountyRat likes this.
  5. Visit  SaoirseRN profile page
    2
    Those who insist, you have to be more direct and set the boundary firmly but professionally.

    "I'm sorry, these are subjects I don't discuss at work, and I would appreciate you stopping this line of questioning. I am here to help you/your family member in my role as a nurse and I would be happy to discuss your/his health with you."
    VegetasGRL03RN and CountyRat like this.
  6. Visit  RN&mom profile page
    0
    I live in a small town and did some of my clinicals at my local hospital. I had my first child when I was 17 (his dad and I are still together), while most people are supportive of me working so hard to make something of myself I did have to defend myself to some people which is part of the reason I now work out of town. It's no ones buisness but when people already know I found myself saying, yes I was a teenage mom. I'm quite proud I turned what could have been a very negative situation into a life lesson and matured and here I am today about to graduate. That usually shut people up!
  7. Visit  ScarletCeylonRN profile page
    0
    7:52 pm by SaoirseRN
    Those who insist, you have to be more direct and set the boundary firmly but professionally.
    Thanks, Saoirse. I agree, a firm footing in some situations will be required. If they're just not getting the hint, you shouldn't dance around the issue and be frank about addressing the unacceptable behavior. The relationship might change after that, but so be it.

    I sometimes wonder if they were acting that way simply because I was a student nurse at the time. I don't get the feeling that some of these people would have approached me that way if I had been a licensed professional.
  8. Visit  SalineFlush profile page
    1
    I attribute everything to HIPAA.

    Patient: "Where do you live?
    Me: "I can't tell you. HIPAA..."

    Patient: "Are you married? Do you have a girlfriend?"
    Me: "Can't say. HIPAA..."

    Patient: "Please tell me you're not voting for ______!"
    Me: "Well...it would be a HIPAA violation to discuss that."

    When you think it best to avoid providing an answer, blame HIPAA.

    Never forget your lifelong right to remain silent. It has served me immeasurably, and it has become a bit of a mantra always on repeat in my head. I don't lie about myself to patients...but I don't necessarily answer completely or elaborate either. Often times, I just pass on answering at all.
    redhead_NURSE98! likes this.
  9. Visit  Ruby Vee profile page
    0
    Quote from SalineFlush
    I attribute everything to HIPAA.

    Patient: "Where do you live?
    Me: "I can't tell you. HIPAA..."

    Patient: "Are you married? Do you have a girlfriend?"
    Me: "Can't say. HIPAA..."

    Patient: "Please tell me you're not voting for ______!"
    Me: "Well...it would be a HIPAA violation to discuss that."

    When you think it best to avoid providing an answer, blame HIPAA.

    Never forget your lifelong right to remain silent. It has served me immeasurably, and it has become a bit of a mantra always on repeat in my head. I don't lie about myself to patients...but I don't necessarily answer completely or elaborate either. Often times, I just pass on answering at all.
    And no one has pointed out to you what HIPAA is actually all about?
  10. Visit  Ruby Vee profile page
    0
    Years ago, I had an employer that actually forbade us from discussing our personal beliefs/situations with patients or their visitors. At the time, I believed it was hopelessly archaic. Now I see the wisdom, and often tell people who pester me with personal questions that my employer forbids such discussions.

    The casual "Who did you vote for?" question can usually be easily deflected by turning it back on the questioner. Most people love to talk about themselves.

    Someone who persistently pesters me with questions about my religion, personal life or politics is told that I will not discuss such topics with them because I need to focus on patient care. And if the pestering continues, they're told that it's time for the patient to rest and the waiting room is "that way."
  11. Visit  SalineFlush profile page
    1
    Of course I know what HIPAA is really "about".
    HMAmara likes this.
  12. Visit  ScarletCeylonRN profile page
    0
    Ruby Vee
    Years ago, I had an employer that actually forbade us from discussing our personal beliefs/situations with patients or their visitors. At the time, I believed it was hopelessly archaic. Now I see the wisdom, and often tell people who pester me with personal questions that my employer forbids such discussions.
    It's good policy. People tend to run at the mouth when they start talking about personal issues or beliefs, and situations can easily get out of hand. It's best not to blur the professional lines and keep the relationship strictly about care. You never know what someone will do with the information they glean from you, after all!

    Thank you for all of the responses, everyone. Hopefully this can be a little social interaction toolbox for someone down the line. Anyone have any other suggestions?
  13. Visit  kbrn2002 profile page
    0
    Quote from SalineFlush
    I attribute everything to HIPAA.

    Patient: "Where do you live?
    Me: "I can't tell you. HIPAA..."

    Patient: "Are you married? Do you have a girlfriend?"
    Me: "Can't say. HIPAA..."

    Patient: "Please tell me you're not voting for ______!"
    Me: "Well...it would be a HIPAA violation to discuss that."

    When you think it best to avoid providing an answer, blame HIPAA.

    Never forget your lifelong right to remain silent. It has served me immeasurably, and it has become a bit of a mantra always on repeat in my head. I don't lie about myself to patients...but I don't necessarily answer completely or elaborate either. Often times, I just pass on answering at all.
    As long as they don't actually know what HIPAA is...or worse yet, follow up with "what does a hippo have to do with anything?"


Nursing Jobs in every specialty and state. Visit today and find your dream job.

A Big Thank You To Our Sponsors
Top
close
close