How to Help Patients Cope With Stress


Tips and videos to help reduce these top stressors

Stress is at an all-time high in the United States. The combined effects of an ongoing pandemic, widespread grief and loss, economic concerns and global uncertainty are having a significant impact on individuals’ stress levels.

Stress about money ranked the highest since 2015, according to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America™ survey. In 2022, the top stressor for 87% of respondents was the rise in prices of everyday items such as gas and groceries due to inflation. That was followed by stress over global events (81%), specifically the war in Ukraine.

“Every physician has to face patients whose main pathologies are burdened by high and chronic degrees of stress. Sometimes, stress-related symptoms are their main pathology,” noted an article in Clinical Management Issues. In fact, up to 90% of doctor visits are for conditions related to stress.

For that reason, it’s important for every doctor to address the topic of stress with their patients and educate them on stress management techniques.

Overcoming cost concerns

Millions of people lost their jobs during the pandemic, and perhaps their health insurance, as well. Others have experienced a significant decline in income. Cost is a common reason for patients to cancel or delay medical appointments.

Let patients know that routine checkups may be covered by their insurance, and can help avoid bigger and more costly medical care down the road.

What can doctors do to help? Consider reaching out to patients who haven’t been into your office for awhile. Let them know that regular checkups can help them manage chronic health conditions, diagnose any issues early, and potentially avoid bigger problems and more advanced (and costly) medical care in the future. You could send them this check-up reminder video by email or text.

Since you don’t want to add more stress to patients’ lives, help them understand how their health insurance works, if they have it. They may not know that certain visits are covered. Explaining the cost of care can go a long way toward easing patients’ stress. Even insured patients may be experiencing financial stress — nearly half (46%) of insured adults report difficulty affording their out-of-pocket costs, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Perhaps you can offer a payment plan or give patients drug samples or discounts on medications.

For more on this topic, read our post Helping Patients Understand the Cost of Their Care.

How patient education combats stress and anxiety

As we discussed in a recent post, doctors’ appointments are stressful for many patients. Whether they are afraid of possible exposure to illnesses or anxious that a diagnostic test might be painful or yield bad news, patient education can help reduce patients’ anxiety.

For those anxious about Covid exposure or fearful of a diagnostic test, patient education can ease stress.

For instance, if patients have been putting off routine appointments out of fear of getting Covid, let them know what steps your practice is taking to keep patients safe. On your website and social media pages, share videos that explain any new cleaning and safety procedures you’ve implemented.

Or if you find that cataract surgery patients, for example, are frequently stressed or fearful about the procedure, you might show them an illustrated animation that shows the surgery is actually quite simple and painless. In some cases, fear of the unknown can cause more stress than knowing what to expect.

Stress management techniques

When dealing with stressed-out patients, Dr. Stephen Lupe, a clinical health psychologist and assistant professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University, said on a podcast that he focuses on things the patient has control over.

Help stressed patients focus on things they can control, such as turning off the news or doing some calming breathing techniques.

“We’ll work on little things like turning off the news and not watching the news 24/7 even though we want to know what’s going on,” he said. Spending time with the people we love, being physically active — “these are things we have some control over and tend to be very helpful,” he said. “And then, engaging the parasympathetic nervous system through some breathing techniques, we can do that pretty easily.” That interrupts the body’s “fight, flight or freeze” response in stressful situations.

Rendia offers several videos you can share with patients, including this two-minute meditation, how to cultivate an attitude of gratitude and stress relief tips for the whole family.

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