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How to ease a patient's anxiety

Ater, Jacque MA

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In Brief

For most patients, hospitalization triggers some degree of fear and frustration. Establishing an open line of communication with them might not ease all of their anxieties, but it can provide support and help both of you clarify things. It also can make them more receptive to patient teaching. Keep these four communication tips in mind during your rounds so you keep communication flowing both ways.

  1. Clarify the reason for the patient's admission. Reviewing the reason he's been admitted will let him openly discuss his expectations and help him to avoid misconceptions. Use simple language to explain any scheduled procedures, new medications, or unforeseen changes. Even if his health care provider (HCP) has already explained everything to him, review the details and encourage him to ask questions so you're sure he understands why he's in the hospital and what to expect.
  2. Be up front about possible delays and time restraints. Many patients don't appreciate all the demands on nurses and HCPs, so don't assume he'll understand if someone is behind schedule. If his HCP is involved with an emergency, for example, inform him about the delay. He'll feel less frustrated if he understands the situation.
  3. Reinforce the HCP's verbal discharge instructions with the patient, no matter how simple or routine they seem. Ask him to repeat them back to you so you can assess how well he understands them. Encourage him and his family to ask questions. Write down directions or give them handouts to take home so they can refer to them later.
  4. Learn to read your patient's nonverbal signals. Pay attention to his facial expressions and body language, which may reflect reactions he can't verbalize. Don't assume that if he doesn't have any questions that he understands everything. Ask him directly and politely if you can clarify anything, and as always, document your teachings.
Let your patient know that you welcome his question.
© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.