There are many resources that tell you what you should say to a patient, how to help a patient, or console a family member – and these are all good topics. However, there are some things you should not say to a patient or a family member, and these are equally important, if not more so.
This is the most painful procedure you will ever experience.
Even if this is true for some patients, or was true for you, it may not be true for your patient. Telling the patient they will be in agony unlike any they have ever known is not helpful. It will increase their stress before the procedure and may even unconsciously set them up to think they need more pain medication than they would have otherwise asked for after the procedure. You don’t have to lie to them, but you don’t have to scare them either.
This won’t hurt at all.
While this little lie is usually reserved for children, some nurses and doctors will say it to adults as well. When this lie is told to children, it makes them distrustful of medical professionals and will cause them to overestimate the amount of pain doctors or nurses will cause them in the future. They may even become afraid of nurses or doctors because they will not know when to believe them. It is far better to tell them it will hurt but it will be over soon (like a shot) or that it will make them feel better (like setting a broken bone). Children and adults respond well to honesty. Give them a chance to prepare for the pain.
I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.
If tests are being run to eliminate a scary possibility, such as cancer, telling the patient it is nothing to worry about negates their feelings and may make them feel ashamed for being worried. If it were truly nothing to worry about, tests would not be needed and they would not be in the office for treatment. Instead, explain exactly what the tests are designed to diagnose. Information is a powerful tool, and having something concrete to focus on will give the patient something productive to think about and may relieve some of the fear.
All three of these phrases are completely subjective, which is primarily why they are discouraged. By being honest with patients and keeping conversations focused on facts, you will help reassure your patients without giving them false hope, or causing them undue anxiety. While every person handles medical treatment differently, it is common for patients to worry about their own mortality. By sticking to the facts you will ensure that they are well informed, and that is one of the most comforting things you can do for a patient.