In the U.S. alone, approximately 40 million adults have some form of anxiety disorder—whether it’s Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, these people are three to five times more likely to visit healthcare facilities and seek medical attention. For some, doctor visits can worsen their feelings and cause patient anxiety, or “white coat syndrome” (an elevated blood pressure caused by the presence of a medical professional). As COVID-19 continues to surge during flu season, healthcare professionals, like medical assistants, can expect to see a new level of anxiety.
This year, in particular, will be especially challenging for both medical assistants and patients alike. On top of the stress brought on by the pandemic, days are growing shorter and darker; seasonal changes can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) in about 5% of adults. As a medical assistant, it is part of your job to comfort and reassure patients suffering from different types of anxiety, which isn’t always easy.
In this blog, we will go over how medical assistants can identify anxiety, help ease someone’s worries, and communicate properly with patients dealing with anxiety.
Identifying Anxiety In Your Patients
- Body language and vital signs
If the patient is having trouble breathing, hyperventilating, sweating, trembling, or having difficulty concentrating or performing basic tasks, they may be experiencing anxiety or a panic attack. Another way to confirm is by checking for elevation in their heart rate and blood pressure.
- Feelings and thoughts
Talk with them and see if they feel nervous, tense, restless, or have thoughts of impending doom or danger.
- Fatigue or sleeping issues
Ask about sleeping patterns and energy levels; are they experiencing low energy, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, or oversleeping?
- Changes in diet or weight
Fast or excessive weight gain, weight loss, overeating, or even carb-cravings are also signs of anxious behavior.
Low moods (feelings of panic, worry, sadness/depression) are common, along with isolation, social withdrawal, loss of interest, and irritability.
This year, we’re dealing with S.A.D. alongside a pandemic that brings a number of in-home issues (e.g., social isolation, financial struggles, etc.). While we don’t fully know how one will affect the other, it is safe to say it won’t be easy for those struggling with anxiety. As a medical assistant, there are several tactics you can use to help minimize their levels of worry and panic if they are in your care.
How Medical Assistants Can Help Calm Anxious Patients
Medical assistants are tasked with lightening the load of busy doctors and nurses; however, their role as a comforter is needed now more than ever. When assisting an anxious patient, there are ways you should handle their visit from start to finish.
These tactics include, but are not limited to:
- Be your best self. Approach every patient with empathy, compassion, and an open mind.
- Lighten up. A bit of well-placed humor can ease a person and allow them to feel more connected to you and safe in the healthcare facility.
- Be calm and collected. Approach calmly and speak softly.
- Use body language. If your posture is relaxed, a person will subconsciously mimic your body language, helping bring them to a relaxed state.
- Use eye contact when communicating. Doing so will make them feel important and heard.
- Offer helpful advice. Encourage outdoor activities, healthy eating habits, routines, and finding new hobbies.
Ultimately, the way you express yourself to your patient will affect how they feel and react. It’s essential to keep this in mind when working with them or your colleagues. A positive work environment will help things run smoother and make everyone feel more at ease.
The Proper Way to Verbally Communicate With Anxious Patients
Your demeanor and a tasteful joke can only take you so far when working with a patient struggling with anxious feelings.
Use these communication tips during all interactions:
- Start each conversation with appreciation and understanding. While you may feel comfortable in the healthcare environment, understand that it can feel overwhelming to others. Appreciate the outlook they bring to the situation, value what they say and how they feel; it may even make it easier to help them.
- Choose your words carefully. Though you may not see the “big deal,” do not minimize what your patient is experiencing. Avoid saying things like, “It’s only a small procedure.” or “It’s just a tonsillectomy.” Small procedures can feel as dangerous as major surgeries, and check-ups can be worrisome for someone who fears hospitals or other healthcare facilities, etc.
- Listen to their concerns. Even if their problems seem nonsensical, for example, “I worry about the doctor’s level of expertise,” understand they may be expressing them to cope with what they are feeling. Let them tell you their worries, and don’t interrupt if possible.
- Give them all of the options. A patient’s medical team makes most decisions, but there are some things they can choose and control. Let them know what those things are and allow them to hold on to some level of control; this will make them feel safe and secure.
Time to Begin Your Healthcare Career
Even though this year’s major holidays will be celebrated differently, don’t forget to bring holiday cheer to your patients. Read this blog to find out how you can make the spirit merry and bright.
If you’re ready to become a medical assistant, take the next step at Woodruff. You’ll get in-class instruction and practical training from experienced instructors and healthcare professionals. We offer personalized financing and payment plans so you can focus on your education and start your career.