What Doesn’t Kill You
I hereby declare Kelly Clarkson’s What Doesn’t Kill You as 2021’s theme song. Being a song about a breakup, it doesn’t exactly translate on all levels, but the age-old adage it leaves reverberating in my head serves as daily inspiration. Believe it or not, Kelly Clarkson didn’t actually say it first. Its origin lies with Friedrich Nietzsche as part of his Twilight of the Idols and is often quoted today as an affirmation of resilience. There’s your history lesson for the day.
All joking aside, a lot was lost in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, and healthcare facilities still standing today exhibited a great amount of resilience. Although many of the changes made started as a means to survive, the world of healthcare has changed for the better in a lot of ways. However, a lot of the necessary changes that were made only exacerbate the unknowns and potential anxieties of your patients.
White Coat Syndrome
If your patients didn’t already experience a level of “White Coat Syndrome” before the pandemic, the chances are high they likely will now. According to this Healthline article, “White Coat Syndrome” is defined as high blood pressure that occurs at your doctor’s office or in a medical setting, but not in other settings. (1) Essentially, it’s the manifestation of anxiety from visiting a doctor’s office. There’s not much these days that looks the same as it did pre-pandemic. Going to the grocery store, grabbing a bite to eat, or even leaving the safe confines of home can cause a great deal of unease for many people nowadays. The growing rate of mental-health related illnesses as a result of the pandemic is not new news. What’s becoming more evident is that a lot of the new ways of performing daily-life tasks are not going to revert back to the way they were pre-pandemic, especially in regards to healthcare. A lot of the necessary changes made as a result of the challenges we faced in 2020 are for the better and are here to stay. Let’s take some time to address the issue many of your patients might be struggling with: anxiety within a medical setting.
Still Avoiding the Doctor’s Office
The Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions (SCAI) released a new national survey on January 13th, 2021 confirming the trend of COVID-19 related-fears causing Americans to avoid the doctor’s office. Here are a few key statistics:
- Nearly 40 percent of Americans do not feel safe going to a doctor’s office during COVID-19.
- More than 30 percent of Americans have not had a routine check-up with their doctor since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
- More than half (51 percent) of people do not feel comfortable scheduling a medical procedure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Only 25 percent of Black/African Americans and 29 percent of Latinxs would be comfortable scheduling a medical procedure.
- Only 33 percent of Black and African Americans and 34 of Latinxs respondents would be comfortable going to the hospital for an emergency while COVID-19 is still at risk, compared to 58 percent of the general population.
- More people are afraid of contracting COVID-19 (58 percent) than having a heart attack or stroke (42 percent). (2)
These numbers are quite alarming, though not surprising. Physicians and healthcare workers all over the nation are fighting an uphill battle against the commonly-held belief that their offices are not safe.
Bringing Patients Back
It was no small task to quickly and effectively influence the entire world to take precautions to help mitigate the spread of the virus. Likewise, it’s proving to be quite difficult to turn the ship around and ease patients back into the physician’s office. Celine Klosterman provides some helpful tips in combating patients’ fear around returning to the doctor’s office in her article, “Bringing Patients Back to the Doctor’s Office After COVID-19.” She writes, “Information was key to changing public behavior to control the spread of COVID-19. Knowledge will also help consumers feel confident returning to in-person health services.” (3) Informing your patients consistently and effectively and on the new changes your facility has implemented to ensure everyone’s safety is crucial right now. Klosterman encourages healthcare facilities to take advantage of the same channels of communication used in the past, as well as seeking additional communication advice from experts. She writes, “Post-pandemic healthcare marketing is relatively new ground for many professionals. Get advice from strategists and content writers who’ve worked with other organizations in your position.” (3)
In addition to informing your patients of the changes made to ensure their safety, having an intentional conversation regarding finances can also alleviate some of their anxiety regarding visiting your office again. We’ve touched on the COVID-19 related financial stress many people are now dealing with in previous blogs. Klosterman adds on the matter: “Pandemic-related job losses have cost many patients not only income, but also health insurance. That means more members of your audience will need information about financial assistance programs and free or low-cost clinics.” (3) Is it possible some of your patients are avoiding your office simply because they do not know what their financial options are and have apprehension over asking? Take the initiative and inform them first.
Make it Personal
“While patients want the convenience and ease of digital interactions, personalized care is still the touchstone of their loyalty,” writes Geoffrey Martin in his issue, “Top 10 Emerging Trends in Health Care for 2021: The New Normal.” (4) The number one way to make your patients feel at ease regarding visiting your office is to help them feel comfortable through personalized and compassionate care. It’s that personal element of care from a physician that reminds patients they’re interacting with another human toward the mutual goal of an optimal health outcome. It eliminates any intimidation or fear of the unfamiliar. It’s the smile behind the personal protective equipment, the attentively listening ear, or the extra step of remembering a name that will serve as the greatest weapons in fighting the growing rate of anxiety among your patients.
Small Act – Global Effort
Even the simplest of gestures can create a global wave and provide the comfort so many of us desperately need during this pandemic. Remember back to the earlier months of the COVID-19 outbreak when respiratory therapist, Robertino Rodriguez, was desperate to comfort his patients? Out of that desperation the “Share Your Smile” movement was born – where healthcare workers all over were (and still are) displaying pictures of their big, beautiful smiling faces over their protective equipment. Christina Bravo reported in her article for NBC San Diego, “But that small act, meant to ease the minds of his rightfully-worried hospital patients, has turned into a global effort that has garnered major attention from the likes of Colgate, Gov. Gavin Newsom and, most recently, the publishers behind the Dr. Seuss books.” (5)
It’s in the challenging moments that we’re forced to get creative and adapt. Some would even argue that growth is impossible without the struggle. There’s no denying the healthcare world is better, more efficient, and stronger today because of the challenges it faced in 2020. The task of easing patients back into your office is not impossible, but requires intentional and consistent measures.
We implore you share comments below regarding any effective strategies your facility has implemented to help relieve fear and anxiety among your patients.
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Jerry L. Stone