Easing Patient Fears Can Raise HCAHPS Scores

Anna Webster, September 28, 2011

Not everyone feels the same way about the blue "H" sign indicating a hospital's proximity. For Colleen Sweeney, RN, the sign is a reminder to whip out her phone to go on hospitalcompare.com and see how the hospital stacks up next to Memorial Hospital and Health System in South Bend IN, where she works as director of innovation, ambassador and customer services.

"I love everything about hospitals – the smell, the bad art on the walls, everything. I've been in hospitals since I was 18," Sweeney says. "But not everyone feels that way."

In one form or another, everyone has some fear or anxiety surrounding hospitals and healthcare, she says. Sweeney recently completed a patient empathy project in which she interviewed patients on what they fear about hospitals and healthcare systems. Ninety six percent of patients suffer from "Clinicophobia", a term Sweeney coined meaning the fear of healthcare.

"If you don't address patient fear, it will work its way in," Sweeney says. "If we give you instructions and you are too busy thinking about how scared you are or who's going to take care of you – before you know it, you're back in the hospital."

Sweeney asked the audience at the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD) Annual conference in Phoenix to guess the order of the top four patient fears. Some people shouted infections, others shouted death.

The most common patient fears are:

  1. Infection
  2. Incompetence
  3. Death
  4. Cost
  5. Mix-Ups
  6. Needles
  7. Rude doctors and nurses
  8. Germs
  9. Prognosis
  10. Communication issues
  11. Loneliness


Surprised? Addressing patient fear is a huge component, if not the core component of the patient experience. Sweeney says she asked her staff, if you had known that the patient was fearful, would you have treated them differently? All heads nodded.

Anna Webster Questions? Comments? Story ideas? Anna Webster, Online Content Coordinator for HealthLeaders Media, can be reached at awebster@hcpro.com.
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