ENTtoday: How can you calm patients who may be in pain?
Dr. Sandman: Figure out—or ask—what the patient in pain wants from you. Does he or she want help—e.g. pain meds? Does he or she want advice, such as what the patient can do at home to reduce the pain? Does he or she want a chance to vent?
Most healthcare professionals know already that they should never tell patients that it doesn’t hurt as much as they say it does. Or that other patients have it worse. Or that you’re sure they’ll feel better if…. Instead, let them tell you how bad it is. Agree with them that it’s awful, unfair, etc. You might want to point out that some people feel better focusing on their pain, complaining about it, while other people would rather be distracted and think about something else—and then ask them which group they’re in. But even people in the second group may be temporarily in the first group when they’re talking to their doctor or doctor’s office!
ENTtoday: How do you explain to patients what the new coronavirus is?
Dr. Sandman: Consider giving them links to sites you consider reliable instead of second-hand information you got from those links. But if they’re not equipped to navigate the internet or they’d really rather hear it from you—and you feel qualified to brief them (and have the time), by all means give it a shot.
Talking to your patients about medical science is a bit like talking to your children about sex: It’s best not to tell them more than they want to know. Let them guide the discussion. Answer their questions. And if you sense an unasked question, if they’re talking around what you suspect they really want to know, answer the unasked question too.
There may be some information you need them to have, and you should try to provide that information whether they’re asking for it or not. For example, you need them to know under what conditions they should seek COVID-19 medical care, which is basically, if they’re having trouble breathing. And you need them to know whether their ENT problem affects their COVID-19 vulnerability in any way. Second, there may be some misinformation you need to correct—something they think they know already but they have it wrong. I see no need to correct misinformation that isn’t actionable. If a patient thinks the virus is DNA and you know it’s RNA, so what. But if it matters to their health—for example, if they wrongly think they can safely spend time with other people as long as they wear a mask—then you should speak up.