You don’t get to choose your patients. So your relationship with them can range anywhere from “match made in heaven” to “your worst nightmare.” Any appointment can be a potentially difficult situation, mainly because when patients come to see you, they’re probably already anxious. They may be concerned about what’s ailing them, be uncomfortable with the sterile atmosphere, or have a general distrust of medical practitioners. Regardless, proper patient care requires utmost clinical professionalism and good communication. But “good communication” doesn’t necessarily mean “tell all.” While transparency is important, there are certainly things nurses should never say to their patients. Ever. To help you keep your patients at ease, We came up with 8 things you should never say to them. We’ll also offer suggestions for what to say instead.
- “This won’t hurt at all.” As a trained healthcare professional, you of course want to put your patient at ease and avoid inflicting any unnecessary pain. But promising no pain is usually an outright lie and a bad habit of practice. The reality is that most procedures do hurt or at least cause some discomfort, so it’s important for you to be upfront and honest with your patients if you want to build a good rapport with them. Instead of falsely reassuring your patient, try saying something more straightforward, like “This will hurt a little, but don’t worry, I’ll try to do it as quickly as possible” or “This might be a bit uncomfortable, but it’ll be over before you know it.” Your patient will appreciate your sincerity.
- “I can’t seem to find your records.” Though being truthful with your patients is imperative, you also want to convey the utmost professionalism and the impression that they are receiving the best care possible. No patient likes to hear their records are missing, especially if they’re already in a physically vulnerable or painful situation. This type of information is kept best to yourself and your staff, particularly because your patient has nothing to do with their missing records. Figure out where they went as quickly as possible and get on with the procedure, otherwise, you’re going to needlessly stress out your patient over a silly and easily preventable administrative hiccup.
- “Whoops!” You always want to keep in mind how psychologically and physically vulnerable patients feel when they visit you for healthcare services. It’s a sterile environment, they’ve been anxious about their symptoms, and they may not understand everything that’s going on both medically and administratively amongst you and your staff. That’s why you want to avoid any exclamations or sudden disruptions in your behavior or speech. Instead of immediately reacting to something that went wrong, wait until the end of the procedure to tell your patient what went wrong as eloquently and professionally as possible.
- “I completely understand what you’re going through.” Unless you’ve been in the exact same position as your patient – and let’s be honest, there’s no chance of that happening – you don’t understand what he/she is going through. You might have had a family member who battled breast cancer, but that doesn’t mean your experience is anything like that of your patient’s. What’s more, some patients don’t want to know how you are personally relating to them at this moment – they want you to help them heal. Some patients respond well to personal anecdotes, but wait until you are more familiar with them and their diagnosis before you launch into your story about breaking your leg when you were 15.
- “We’re very busy. Please wait.” Whether it’s a busy ER or a peaceful dermatology department, one of the most frustrating things a patient can here is “We’re very busy. Please wait.” Of course, patients don’t always understand everything that is going on behind the scenes, but their irritation is still warranted. If you can, try to give patients a maximum number of minutes they could be waiting. Trying to brush off a patient’s aggravation by saying you’re busy only makes things worse. Apologize and make your best attempt to smooth things over once the patient is able to be seen.
- “Would you look at that?!” Any exclamation of shock or awe is a major no-no in nursing. You may run into a patient with an injury or symptom you’ve never even heard about, but refrain from actually telling them that. Patients are putting their lives in your hands and they want to know (or at least think!) that you’ve been around the block and back.
- It could be worse.” Of course it could be worse, the patient knows that! Whether they have the common cold or a terminal illness, they aren’t likely to be focusing on how much worse things could get. Instead, patients are worried about the diagnosis, the healing process, the cost of care, if they can still work and an assortment of those fears. Plus, it could get worse.
- "I doubt it’s anything serious.” You might think you’re quelling any fears, but what if you’re wrong? Sure, you have tons of medical knowledge and probably see terrible injuries every day, but the one thing you can’t do is predict the future. Will that wound become infected? Will that benign mass turn malignant? You never know. And while 9 out of 10 times you might be right, that one mistake can come back to haunt you. Instead of trying to comfort a patient by brushing off their fears, be honest about their diagnosis and the amazing level of care they will receive in your facility.