A busy clinician may sometimes forget just how scared a patient can be and may not even know why. There are many reasons for patients to harbor a fear of healthcare, some reasonable and some not. Some patients can overcome their fears and some can hide them. Others are overcome by the fear, and this can have a negative effect on their health and life. Medical algorithms can help clinicians better identify and manage patient fears. Understanding a patient’s fear of healthcare can help to improve outcomes.
One of the most common forms of health-related anxiety is a fear of dentists. The sound of a dentist’s drill causes many of us to cringe. Sometimes a person has not gone to the dentist for many years. The end result is that the person may end up with a life-threatening problem or a poor quality of life. Fortunately many dentists are aware of dental anxiety and offer sedation or other strategies to help deal with a patient’s fears.
Fear of a Serious Health Problem
Older adults may avoid doctors because something bad might be found. The “something” may range from cancer to heart disease to eye disease to early dementia. Something that could be treated safely if caught early may progress to something that is incurable.
I Hate Needles
Many patients hate needles and some may faint right after they get a needle stick. A person who is afraid of needles may avoid laboratory tests or vaccines or drug injections. Such a person tends to avoid blood donation, contributing to blood shortages which can significantly affect communities.
Fear of Drugs
Some patients are afraid of taking medications. They do everything that they can to avoid taking a medicine. This can lead to noncompliance, which can have negative consequences if the drug is needed to treat a disease. Or the patient may use an alternative therapy which may be ineffective.
Patients can have many other fears. Fear of being unable to afford healthcare. Fear of fever. Fear of falling. Fear of going to a nursing home. Fear of childbirth. Just ask. you might be surprised.
Take Home Message
Some patients are afraid, and they may be afraid to mention it. A fear can become a barrier for care. Medical algorithms can help to identify these patients and to find out what they are afraid of.
An effective clinician is someone who can emotionally connect with the patient. This is something a computer cannot do, at least not yet. Nothing helps allay fear more than trusting someone. Relationships can make all of the difference.