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How Expert Medical Office Administrators Calm Anxious Patients

Dec 12, 2016
medical office administrators

MOAs may use humour to distract nervous patients and diffuse stressful situations (like getting an injection)

Photo credit: NHS Employers

For some patients, going to the doctor or dentist is very stressful. They may be feeling terribly ill, impatient about a long wait, or suffer from anxiety about undergoing a certain medical procedure.

Even something as simple as having blood drawn can truly panic some patients. In fact, fear of needles is quiet common—it’s called trypanophobia, and effects one in 10 patients.

So what kinds of techniques do expert medical office administrators (MOAs) use when patients get anxious, upset, or disruptive?

Here are four “tried and tested” approaches to keep in mind as you move from training to the workplace.

Get Fears Out in the Open Before the Appointment

Knowing about a patient’s anxiety before an appointment gives MOAs an opportunity to take preventative measures—steps that may help reduce the patient’s stress.

Research shows that anxious patients often hide their fears, which results in a build-up of worry that explodes into a panic attack once they’re in the medical office.

MOAs can try talking with new patients either in person or over the phone, as part of the routine information-gathering process. Experts suggest asking a few open-ended questions such as:

  • how did your last doctor or dentist visit go?
  • would you like to talk through the procedure we’re scheduling ?
  • do you have any questions or concerns about what will take place during your appointment?

The simple acts of asking and listening can help worried patients feel more at ease once they’ve arrived for an appointment.

Take a few extra moments to get to know your patients, and understand their specific fears or concerns. You will reduce outbursts in your waiting room, and create a comforting atmosphere of empathy and trust.

Diffuse Waiting Room  Anger with Care, Humour, & Practicality

How should you respond to a patient who begins yelling because their appointment is delayed? Or a disgruntled patient who insults you directly, even though you’re doing your job well.

Experienced MOAs know that fighting fire with fire rarely gets good results in a busy waiting room. The best response is usually a combination of calm, good humour, and practical next steps to resolve the issue (if possible).

For example, you might take a disruptive patient aside and say, “I can see you’re very upset—what’s going on? And then, “I understand. I will do whatever I can to help you, starting with X, Y, and Z…”

MOAs should then follow up with those next steps, even if the best you can offer is a cup of water and a quick update on how much longer the wait will be.

It may even be possible to use a joke or two to diffuse a tense waiting room situation.  With time, MOAs learn to “read” the waiting room, and use a combination of techniques to keep things calm.

A tried and true approach is always to listen patiently, show you acknowledge the complaint, and offer whatever practical solutions you can.

Know Your Self: Replace Negative Reactions with Controlled Responses

MOAs are human beings. When a patient gets upset about a nerve-wracking procedure or long wait time and lashes out, it’s normal to feel personally attacked—and want to react in kind.

In order to avoid an unprofessional (and unhelpful) scene, MOAs must be aware of their own triggers, and replace a negative reaction with a productive, controlled response.

For example, you might be great at handling patients with needle phobias, and know just what to say and do to restore calm. But if an angry patient begins criticizing your professionalism and work skills, you find it very hard to bite your tongue.

Expert MOAs are self aware. They’ve learned to let critical comments roll off their backs. When tensions mount, they follow a strict protocol of controlled responses, including:

  • a quiet, even tone of voice that is caring, but not “reactive”
  • non-confrontation body language (no crossed arms, angry facial expressions, waving arms, etc.)
  • steady eye contact that shows you’re listening and respect the patient
  • asking an upset patient to sit down and talk (reduces aggression)
  • moving the disruptive patient to a private area for further discussion (if possible)

Most medical office administrator programs include internships, so if you’re still in training don’t worry—you’ll get a chance to practice your patient communication skills in a real clinic environment before you graduate. Before long, you will adapt patient-calming techniques like these to your own particular style, needs, and work place.

Still looking for a reputable medical office administrator college in Toronto?

Check out Herzing College’s medical office administrator training program, delivered at our Toronto campus. The diploma takes just 10 months to complete, and comes with a 6-week internship for on-the-job experience. Visit the program page for a complete list of courses, a short video, career options—or to chat live with an academic advisor. We’re here to help!

Go to Medical Office Administrator Program Page

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