6 Strategies for Assisting Anxious Patients

“The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.” –William Osler

Raise your hand if you enjoy doctor appointments. Dental visit? Hospital procedures? If you enjoy being sick, get that arm in the air. How about a lengthy hospital stay? Anyone??

Of course, we don’t enjoy such things. Visiting the doctor or undergoing medical or dental procedures can be extremely stressful, causing high levels of anxiety and fear. We’d rather be healthy and enjoying life at home. We’d rather be anywhere else, as long as it doesn’t involve being poked and prodded, or carry the potential to reveal bad news.

There are many ways healthcare organizations and their staff can assist patients in dealing with these very common, sometimes debilitating, anxiety, and fears.

Strategy #1 – Begin with the reception area.

When greeted warmly by smiling individuals who make eye contact, a fearful patient’s anxiety drops a notch. For a second, he/she is distracted from the stress that has his/her pulse-raising, palms sweating, and fingers trembling. In contrast, if the receptionist remains focused on charts, paperwork, or the computer screen while mumbling a greeting and thrusting a clipboard at the patient, the patient’s anxiety will increase.

Ensure the person who receives patients is a genuinely warm, friendly individual who understands the importance of making patients feel welcome comfortable. He or she can set the tone for the entire experience.

Strategy #2 – Create distractions

While you can’t mute the internal monologue that fuels a patient’s anxiety, you can drown it out with distractions.

NexHealth suggests, “investing in some beautiful coffee table books for your receptions space – think relaxing landscapes, photography, and other attention-grabbing images. Make sure you have good, engaging music playing, as well – no elevator music – or better yet, encourage your patients to listen to their playlist on headphones. It is another good way to let your patients feel in control.”

This is one time where distractions play a positive role.

Strategy #3 – Train staff to prepare for anxiety-ridden patients

Remind staff that unfamiliarity breeds anxiety. It’s too easy for healthcare workers for whom the medical environment is “old hat” to forget that few patients will be as comfortable in these settings as are the workers.

Train them to be mindful of nervous behavior—a quavering voice, sweating, excessive fidgeting, trembling or twitching. While some degree of nervous tension is to be expected, brushing off all signs of anxiety as “normal” can lead to a more critical situation.

Strategy #4 — Don’t tell patients to relax — show them how

Insisting that an anxious person calm down, does not help. It creates a dismissive atmosphere that is likely to escalate his/her state of anxiety.

“Some patients will be able to tell you what they need. If they cannot tell you, then help them with some relaxation techniques. Give specific directions like ‘breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth,’” suggests Crystal Gustafson, critical care registered nurse.

Other ways to help—

  • Dim the lights
  • Find a place for the patient to lie down
  • Offer water or a cup of tea or coffee
  • Offer to stay with the patient
  • Retrieve family members/friends to be with the patient

Inform other staff members who will have contact with this patient that he/she is struggling with anxiety.

“As a health care professional, I know when I display empathy towards patients, they are more likely to trust me and tell me more about themselves rather than if I am less engaged in a conversation. It is important to make every patient interaction, no matter how short, meaningful,” shares Anna Morrow.

Strategy #5 – Explain the what and the why

The unfamiliar environment and the uncertainty of what to expect both contribute significantly to anxiety. “The majority of patients with anxiety are not frequent fliers,” reminds Gustafson. “To help minimize anxiety, let your patient know everything that you are doing and why you are doing it.”

Take the time to explain the rationale behind the prescribed medications and the procedures ordered. Prepare patients on what to expect from today’s procedures as well as those scheduled for later. Encourage their questions. Give them contact information for problems that may arise later.

Strategy #6 – Get them to talk it out

Before an exam or procedure begins, ask, “How are you feeling right now?” Inviting the patient to open up about their anxiety can have a calming effect. Listen, acknowledge his/her fears, and probe for additional questions. Continue to inquire throughout the procedure, offering to make adjustments whenever possible to increase the patient’s comfort.

“Showing that you’re ‘on their side’ and demonstrating good chairside manner can work wonders for anxious patients,” notes NexHealth.

An awareness-trained staff can enhance the experience of a fearful patient by tuning into their anxiety and offering support. And that’s where Medical Temporaries, Inc., can help. For over 25 years, we have provided clinical and clerical healthcare workers to many of the area’s leading medical facilities. We understand the need for caring, compassionate employees in every position within your organization. Let us partner with you in attaining the most qualified staff to meet your patient’s needs.

Published by Medical Temporararies, Inc.

Medical Temporaries, Inc. is more than a temp agency, we're a staffing company with all types of opportunities available. Whether you're looking for full-time, part-time, short-term or long-term employment, we are here to build the bridge between you and you're Ideal job.

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