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Confrontation or abusive situations


Effectively dealing with confrontation or abusive situations involves finding a balance between respect for autonomy and protecting those concerned (MRTs, other healthcare professionals, patients and/or family members)


+ Prevalence of confrontation

  • The patient care environment is prone to high stress situations with opportunity for miscommunication and conflict.1,8
  • Data from family medicine in Canada suggest that medical professionals can expect to deal with confrontational encounters at some point during their career.2

+ Dealing with confrontation

  • When encountering outward frustration, be open and honest about the problem – this can sometimes help to diffuse the situation:3,4
    • Give complete attention to the concern being expressed
    • Allow for full explanation and ask questions to ensure full understanding of concerns
    • Ensure body language demonstrates respect – understanding that ideal body language may vary depending on culture and background (e.g., relaxed stance, arms uncrossed, eye contact)3-5
    • Permit verbal venting to help diffuse frustration
    • Allow the individual to identify what a successful resolution of their concern would be -- for example ask "What would you need to feel the situation is resolved?"
    • Stay calm and composed during the interaction
    • If a patient and/or family member, or another healthcare professional wishes to carry through on making a complaint, assure them that the appropriate action will be taken and provide them with the necessary information to proceed with their concerns

+ Dealing with escalation

  • On occasion, these techniques do not elicit the desired response, and frustration may escalate to abusive and even violent behaviour.
  • Taking into account provincial regulations, laws and facility policy, a plan is put in place for abusive situations before they arise.6
  • In the case of confrontation, help is sought before the problem escalates.6
    • In potentially dangerous situations, have another technologist or staff member stay during the procedure/treatment as a preventative step and involve the supervisor or manger when appropriate.


  • If a confrontation escalates to violence in a hospital setting, hospital security is notified and it may be grounds to initiate a code (e.g., Code White, or appropriate code for your institution).
  • Education is obtained in preparation for abusive situations before they arise.
    • Education designed to prepare healthcare professionals to address conflict situations may be available through one's institution6

+ Documenting confrontation

  • All factual details of confrontations or abusive situations are documented, including:7
    • Names of those involved
    • Location
    • Date and time
    • Nature of the situation
    • Steps taken in response to the situation
    • The presence of witnesses and who they were


  • MRTs should be familiar with the specifics of facility policy regarding the documentation of confrontation.

+ References

  1. Gurley LT, Callaway WJ. Introduction to Radiologic Technology, 7th Ed. Maryland Heights, MO: Mosby; 2011.
  2. Miedema B, et al. Prevalence of abusive encounters in the workplace of family physicians: a minor, major, or severe problem? Can Fam Physician 2010;56(3):e101–e108.
  3. Schubert J. Hospital Security: Responding to Abusive Patient Behavior (Part II of III): 10 Ways to Defuse Incidents. Campus Security 2007.
  4. Difficult Patients. Patient UK website. Available at: Accessed March 22, 2011.
  5. Galanti GA. An introduction to cultural differences. West J Med. 2000;172(5):335–336.
  6. Ehrlich RA, Daly JA. Patient Care in Radiography. With an Introduction to Medical Imaging. 6th Ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2004.
  7. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Violence in the Workplace: Prevention Guide. 2014. Available at: Accessed November 19, 2015.
  8. Beech B, Leather P. Workplace violence in the health care sector: A review of staff training and integration of training evaluation models. Elsevier. 2006;11:27-43.




November, 2015


Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists
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