Displace these observations to make them less accusatory. Not, “You must be scared….” Maybe, “A lot of our patients are telling us they’re scared…,” or even, “If I had a pending procedure, I think I’d probably be scared….”
Frame the decision as a collaboration. The patient has information you don’t have—how much it hurts, for example, and how badly he or she wants the procedure over. You have crucial information too, of course. It takes two yeses to go forward—the patient has to decide that it’s wise to come in for treatment in the middle of a pandemic, and you have to decide that it’s wise to provide the treatment in the middle of a pandemic. The purpose of the conversation is to help you both make the right decision.
Don’t use overconfident words like “ensure.” This is all about risk-risk tradeoffs—the risk of going ahead versus the risk of postponing. There’s no good answer, just less bad ones. Now is not a time when we can “ensure” much of anything. We’re all just doing our best. Similarly, try not to say you’re “sure” the procedure will be safe (if you’re recommending going ahead) or “sure” waiting will be safe (if you’re recommending postponement). If you think it’s a borderline judgment call, say so. If you think one choice is obviously preferable to the other, say that—but you’re still not “sure.”
If you want to move forward with the procedure, you will be tempted to understate the risk to the patient of moving forward. Try not to do that. Traveling to your office is itself a risk; the possibility that somebody in your office is infected and could transmit the infection is a risk; others in the waiting room are a risk; every object (from medical equipment to doorknobs) is a risk. Of course, you should explain—but not oversell—what precautions you are taking to reduce these risks.
If you want to postpone the procedure, you will have the opposite temptation. Don’t give in to that one either. In particular, don’t overemphasize the risk to the patient if your main reason for postponing is the risk from the patient—the risk to you and your staff of performing aerosolizing procedures on a patient who might be infected, perhaps with a shortage of masks, gowns, and other PPE.
Consider specifying how long a postponement you’re talking about, or be candid that you can’t because it’s so hard to know what conditions will be like, or when the government’s lockdown rules may change. But do your best to offer something like a plan. “When X and Y are happening here in our community, I’ll be ready to resume doing procedures like yours.” Or, “Your procedure really shouldn’t wait longer than three months. Let’s talk again in six weeks and see whether we think it makes sense to get it onto the schedule.”