Thanks to the Internet and Dr. Google, patients are more scared of doctors and hospitals than ever. This fear can have devastating effects because it means that what likely started out as an easily treatable malady could become a more serious medical issue. Thus, when the patient finally does visit a doctor, they are given the news that the treatment required will be extensive and costly, ultimately reaffirming the patient’s hesitation for visiting the doctor in the first place.
What can reverse this trend? The answer is simple: education. The best doctors aren’t just great at diagnosing and treating ailments, but they are also excellent at educating their patients in regards to prevention and treatment. Here are a few tips that all doctors should follow:
Caring for Injuries at Home
Whether you want to admit it or not, people are going to first attempt to treat themselves at home before they even think about visiting your office. So why not make sure they know how to self-treat safely? For example, when a patient comes into the emergency room with an infected laceration that should have been sutured instead of bandaged, don’t lecture the patient about delaying treatment or fault them for trying at-home remedies first.
Instead teach them how to tell the difference between a cut that needs a bandage and a cut that needs stitches. Make sure they have the right first aid supplies (send them home with a “goody bag” if you have to) for treating wounds and basic injuries. Show the patient, and their primary caregiver if they have one, how to properly bandage a wound, how to prevent it from getting infected, and how to change the dressings to ensure a speedy recovery.
Talk Through Diagnoses
Perhaps the most frustrating thing to experience as a patient is to be told “you have [insert medical ailment here]” and then become inundated with MD level jargon that goes over their head, or worse, be left with no explanation as to what the ailment is and how to effectively treat it.
K.I.S.S – Keep It Short and Simple: The patient doesn’t need to know the Latin name of the diagnosis or how it originated; they just to know if they’ll be okay, how long the treatment will last, and how they can prevent further ailments. Use ‘layman’s terms’ to help put the patient fully understand the extent of their case and to help put them at ease. This helps build trust between you and your patient, which will help them get over their hesitation from visiting the exam room in the first place.
Go Over Patient’s Medical Histories
As much as you’d like them to be able to recall their genetic and family medical histories, not everybody has them committed to memory. However, you’d hope they have a solid grasp as to their own medical history. If your patient has gaps in their personal medical history, talk them through it, help them help you understand their medical past.
Make sure your patient understands all of the health issues they’ve had throughout their lives and how it has affected their current state. Once they go through their own history, be sure to ask them about any illnesses in the family (both immediate and extended), and inquire as to their family’s upbringing and habits. This should provide you with a good understanding as to your patient’s familial medical history and ultimately lead you to make a correct diagnosis.
This should provide you with a good understanding as to your patient’s familial medical history and ultimately lead you to make a correct diagnosis.
Encourage your patients to brush up on their personal and family’s medical history. Rarely do people stick with one doctor throughout their life (due to moving, insurance changes, etc). The more your patient’s know about themselves, the more they can relay to their respective doctor, and the quicker treatment can be administered.
Talk to your patient about the importance of regular checkups and check-ins for their health. Explain how these regular appointments allow you to catch a problem early before it can grow into something far more difficult to treat. And, more importantly, teach your patients how to care for and track their health at home so that if something goes wrong between checkups, they’ll recognize it and know to either come in or treat it at home. Common themes for this type of education are:
- Teaching patients to recognize the signs of skin cancer and how to tell the difference between moles that need attention and moles that are probably fine (encourage them to come in anyway, of course).
- Teaching patients how to tell the difference between a common cold and one that has become an infection and needs antibiotics.
- The signs of external infections as well as how to treat those infections to prevent them from intensifying or spreading.
- The difference between a strain and a sprain and when it’s severe enough (torn or stretched ligaments require surgery) to warrant a trip to the doctor.
The more you teach your patients about their health and how to treat themselves, the more confident and capable they will feel. More importantly, it will help their fear of going to the doctor. Education really is the key to your patients’ continued health and happiness.