Patients who have never had surgery before might be nervous about the process, or might have lots of questions about what to expect. Anxiety is highly common before surgical procedures, but as a hospital administrator, there are many strategies you can use to mitigate that anxiety, and ultimately improve patient outcomes and satisfaction.
There are three main channels you can use to improve patient outcomes and decrease anxiety:
- Doctor, nurse, and staff approaches. First, you’ll need to influence how your doctors, nurses, and other staff members treat people who are about to enter surgery. These are the main people your patients will interact with, so they should be prepared to field their needs and requests.
- Environmental controls. Your hospital’s overall environment can have a major impact on anxiety levels; make sure it’s fully under your control and optimized for patient needs.
- Information availability. The more information a patient has access to, the more comfortable they’re going to feel. The uncertainty of surgical procedures and outcomes is a major source of anxiety.
Through these specific strategies, you can maximize your use of all three available channels:
- Prioritize first-time surgery patients with doctors and staff. Make sure your staff members know that first-time surgery patients are a high priority, and require special care. Surgeons and nurses see dozens of surgery patients a day, both before and after surgery, so the process can be seen coldly, logically, and as a routine. For the surgery patient, however, surgery is a scary and potentially life-changing event. Make sure your staff is equipped to see this perspective.
- Address questions one-on-one (with ample allocated time). Patients with lots of unanswered questions will feel more anxiety than those who feel confident in their understanding of the procedure. Even simple procedures, like snoring surgery or Caesarean sections, may feel overwhelming to the unacquainted. Because you won’t be able to anticipate a patient’s preexisting knowledge, and you may overlook key details because they’ve become routine; it’s important to allocate ample one-on-one time for patients to consider and ask important questions. Make sure your doctors and nurses get the chance to talk with patients this way before surgery.
- Provide multiple outlets for contact and information. Patients may not think of every question they have immediately, and they may prefer one method of contact over another. For this reason, you’ll need to provide many different contact channels and information outlets that give patients the opportunity to get the information they need. This could include offering content on your main website, information via social media, and providing direct contact information for your staff in some cases.
- Present alternatives with transparency. If you’re recommending surgery, don’t forget to be proactive about the potential alternatives, the potential consequences, and what might happen when the surgery is over. Even if there are options you don’t recommend, patients will feel more comfortable knowing what possibilities lie before them, and will feel more control over the situation.
- Make your hospital more comfortable, however possible. Do what you can to make the hospital more comfortable and more welcoming for your patients. This can include major changes, such as building a new waiting room, or small changes, like including more artwork in the lobby or installing more air temperature and conditional controls for individual rooms. Hospitals and doctor’s offices are places of heightened anxiety for most people, so distinguishing your environment and making it more welcoming can make people feel more at home. With that sense of peace, people will be far more comfortable with the notion of going under the knife.
- Collect patient perspectives through surveys. You can’t truly understand the effectiveness of your strategies until you get information about your patients, and one of the best ways to learn about your patients is to create, distribute, and record the information associated with surveys. After each patient surgery, spend some time, money, and effort ensuring you can anonymously capture their subjective experience, and learn from their feedback. Emphasize the strategies that seemed to help them, and discontinue any strategies that interfered with the process.
There’s no certain or universal way to relieve the anxiety your patients will inevitably feel, but these strategies can relieve at least some of that anxiety, and give them a better overall experience. Better patient experiences mean a better reputation for your hospital, better patient outcomes, and of course, higher patient retention—all of which will help you build a better organization.