Easing Patient Fears Can Raise HCAHPS Scores

Anna Webster, for HealthLeaders Media , 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.

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Comments are moderated. Please be patient.

6 comments on "Easing Patient Fears Can Raise HCAHPS Scores"

Brittany Howze (10/16/2011 at 9:56 PM)
"eye rolling nurses"....this lady conveys a total lack of respect in one statement. With an attitude like that, I bet she would be extremely afraid to be a patient in her own hospital.

Helon Shoemake (10/5/2011 at 11:28 AM)
Thank you Linda Conner for posting this article. A patient's perceived fear may be irrelevant and magnified[INVALID]none-the-less, it is real and felt fear within the mind of the patient. A few thoughtful, targeted. and caring inquiries can change the entire patient experience and I am happy that health providers are doing just that!

David C. Baker (9/29/2011 at 4:50 PM)
At Meritus Medical Center our clincally-trained chaplains have the time and the mission to ask people how they are and what they are feeling. Acknowledging and addressing their fears is part of the job. Such is one best practice that Spiritual Care Services adopt in our efforts to improve our HCAHPS scores. DCB




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