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Methods to Reduce Patient Anxiety

What Can Medical Providers Do to Decrease Patient Anxiety?

Anxiety is defined as a feeling of fear, dread, panic, or uneasiness that often leads to physical manifestations, such as rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, muscle tension, excessive sweating, rapid breathing, or involuntary shaking.

One common example of patient anxiety that occurs in the healthcare setting is white coat syndrome. White coat syndrome describes a situation where a patient's blood pressure is elevated consistently at the doctor's office but is lower in other settings, such as their home.

Patients with anxiety may purposefully avoid going to see the doctor or forgo seeking necessary care because of their fear of the unknown. This, in turn, may result in worse health outcomes for them.

What Can Medical Providers Do to Decrease Patient Anxiety?

Many factors can contribute to a patient's feeling of anxiety. These include the environment, interactions with office staff and providers, and the time spent to address all the patient's concerns and educate them.

Create a Warm and Calming Environment

The office environment plays a huge role in initial impressions and patient comfort while waiting for their provider. A well-organized, clean, clutter-free, bright, cheerful environment with calming colors and artwork, living green indoor plants, and comfortable chairs spaced at appropriate distances may lessen a person's initial feelings of anxiety.

Relaxing background music and magazines or television programs with educational information about wellness may provide welcome distractions as patients wait for their visit.

Engage in Genuine Interactions to Establish Trust

Greeting each patient with a warm smile and a cheerful hello goes a long way. Engaging in small talk about the patient's family, job, hobbies, travels, and interests may also take their mind off of their stress.

Healthcare providers should begin each appointment by asking about their patients' concerns and quietly and actively listening to them as they speak. Making sure that the patient visit is not rushed in any way and giving them time to speak their mind can also decrease their stress levels. Showing sincere and unrushed concern, empathy, and interest in their well-being may help anxious patients feel more relaxed.

Attempting to lighten the mood through humor and approaching anxious patients with a calm and personable demeanor may reduce their anxiety. An anxious, rushed provider can further aggravate patient anxiety. Establishing a genuine rapport and openness with patients where they feel comfortable asking anything and have confidence that their concerns will be effectively addressed is a critical step in gaining their trust.

Provide Clear and Understandable Patient Education

Many patients fear the unknown, so providing a step-by-step overview of how the visit will go and the reason for specific actions may help prepare anxious patients for what to expect. Communicating using language that is easy to understand and free of medical terminology can reduce anxiety by minimizing patient confusion and feelings of being overwhelmed and uncertain.

If applicable, drawing pictures that show what is happening inside their body, writing out the treatment plan in clear, concise, straightforward terms, explaining any potential side effects of medications used during treatment, and printing out their future appointment schedule can help patients to better understand the overall process and manage their expectations.

Address Anxiety by Empowering Patients

Sometimes, honestly asking anxious patients about their fears and taking proactive steps to address these fears directly may be the best approach. Ensuring patients that the decision-making is a collaborative process with them and that they have a definitive say in their care plan can be empowering and comforting.

The Bottom Line

Taking these simple steps to reduce patient anxiety and stress at the doctor's office can result in better patient health outcomes and the provision of higher-quality care.

Patients will eventually start to seek care earlier when their anxiety is less because they have received effective care in a calming environment with empathetic staff and an emphasis on patient understanding and empowerment.


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