Relieving Patient Preoperative Anxiety as a Surgeon

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Relieving Patient Preoperative Anxiety as a Surgeon

Those of us who work in healthcare marvel at the low complication rates and rapid speed of today’s outpatient surgery procedures. But for patients, who are less familiar with what goes on beyond the clinic room, the word “surgery” can induce a lot of anxiety. In fact, research shows that over two thirds of patients experience preoperative anxiety. As a surgeon, here are a few strategies for helping patients overcome that anxiety and prepare for their operation:

Help patients regain a sense of control. Patients generally don't have your level of medical training and are deferring to you about their options even when they make the final choice. During a period of pain or illness, which may have already caused them to feel a loss of control, some of their anxiety likely stems from the feeling that they are putting themselves in your hands. When applicable leverage their decision to get outpatient surgery and decisions such as which arm to get their IV line in to help the patient feel some retention of control.

Share your experience with the procedure. Sharing your certifications may not be enough to overcome the vulnerability patients feel going under the knife with you because they usually don’t fully know what the certification process entails. It is likely that they had not heard of the American Board of X until you mentioned it so instead focus on letting them know that you have done many similar operations before and that your team is equipped to deal with complications. For specialties such as plastic surgery, have some before and after pictures ready.

Use small talk and humor. Another source of patient anxiety is from being overwhelmed with information; remember, they are not as familiar with the medical condition and procedure that you both have been discussing. A bit of banter about the local sports teams or small talk around a community event helps bring a sense of familiarity and trust to the patient.

Add a reassuring touch. Research shows that using touch increases the tips that waiters receive, the amount of food supermarket customers purchase, and even the relaxation that patients feel during conscious surgery. A light touch on the shoulder or hand can go a long way in comforting your patient, especially when paired with a statement such as "do you have any questions?" or "a little nervousness is natural, but you will be okay."

Go over preoperative information together. Of course preoperative instructions are being shared with your patients, but as you go through them explain why each step is necessary. Explaining why each step is necessary helps commit the set of instructions to patient memory, clear the mystery around the procedure, and increase the likelihood of patient compliance. If possible, allow whoever accompanied the patient to sit in. Not only does is it beneficial for two people to receive the instructions, but more informed and less nervous family members or friends will soothe the patient's anxiety or at least prevent it from feeling worse.

So why does it matter?

Building a positive doctor-patient relationship can be helpful for clinical reasons; patients will be more open and honest as they go through their visit with you. By taking the extra step and applying even one or two of the above suggestions, you are helping the patient feel more like comfortable. Not only does the patient leave happier, but the bit of reassurance and ease you gave your patient can be important for bringing new patients to your practice in the future.