According to this definition, we encourage our patients to take risk everyday. Of course we encourage patients to reduce risk whether it be by encouraging the use of a seatbelt or warning of the harmful side effects of smoking but if risk is defined as “the place between your comfort zone and your dream” then risk is what we deal.
Many health problems are a result of lifestyle choice or activity. Changing those lifestyle choices requires a person to take on risk because those changes are outside of their comfort zone. Even health problems that could not have been avoided like an accident or unforseen illness result in the patient having to do something unplanned which gets them outside of their comfort zone. Most of us are creatures of habit, we live by patterns, we like routine, our comfort zone is where we reside.
Illness and injury change everything. All of a sudden routine is altered. Even if the illness is a minor infection such as Strep Throat. Routine is altered because an antibiotic is prescribed to be taken twice per day for several days. Even after we start feeling better and the physical desire to get better passes we have to continue to take the antibiotic. When routine is altered anxiety occurs.
One of our greatest priorities as health care providers is to reduce anxiety. Research has proven that when we reduce patient anxiety, outcomes improve and patient compliance increases. It’s easy to understand why. Think about times in your life that you’ve been preoccupied or anxious. Anxiety makes it hard to concentrate.
As health care providers we need to reduce our patient’s anxiety to help them achieve the best possible outcome. Anxiety can be reduced in many different ways, a comforting word, reassurance and repetition are a few.
Providing patients a thorough explanation is another way to reduce anxiety. Go back to the Strep Throat example. The medication label clearly says “Take two times per day for 10 days” but an explanation as to why its important to complete the full dose provides the patient a better understanding of the importance of completing their full course of antibiotic even after feeling better. An explanation is different than instruction. The instructions are clear to the patient, they are printed on the label, the explanation comes from us.
A chest x-ray is another great example. Inflated lungs make for a good x-ray and that’s why if you’ve ever had one the Rad Tech probably said “take a deep breath and hold it”. The instruction is easy but the explanation for holding your breath relates to the need of the Radiologist to have a good view of all parts of the chest and when you hold your breath it makes for an x-ray that’s easier to interpret and provides better results. Explanation takes a little more time but provides the patient better understanding and reduces anxiety.
It’s also important to determine if a patient understands our explanation. Remember when I said it’s sometimes difficult to concentrate when we are anxious. The teach back method provides feedback for us to determine if the patient understands our explanation.
We introduce risk to our patients every day and we have an obligation to reduce the anxiety associated with that risk. A thorough explanation followed by teach back will help to ensure that our patients move from anxiety to comfort as quickly as possible.