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How to Reduce Anxiety in Patients: A Medical Assistant’s Guide

When you go to the doctor for a checkup or medical procedure, the person helping the doctor is the medical assistant. You might already know that his or her job is to escort you to the exam room, ask you about your history, and take your vital signs. What you might not know is that another big part of the job is making nervous patients feel more comfortable. Whether in a doctor’s office or hospital waiting room, the medical assistant helps patients reduce their anxiety.



The majority of Americans have some type of anxiety when it comes to visiting the doctor or sitting in a hospital waiting room. Some even put off medical procedures because they experience high levels of anxiety.

The medical assistant has the important role of reducing nervous patients anxiety and improving the chances that patients will return to have medical treatment completed. For those who enjoy helping and supporting others, medical assisting programs can be the first step toward a rewarding career.

White Coat Syndrome

A technical term for anxiety at the doctor’s office is white coat syndrome. As much as twenty percent of the population suffers from white coat syndrome, according to WebMD. This type of anxiety is characterized by a surge in blood pressure when at the doctor’s office.

Medical assistants might find this challenging when trying to get accurate vital signs. Another sign of white coat syndrome is a patient’s fainting at the sight of a needle. There are many different ways for medical assistants to help nervous patients reduce anxiety at the doctor’s office.

Ways to Reduce Your Patient’s Anxiety

Have an anxious patient in your waiting room? Here are some tips that medical assistants can use to reduce their patients’ anxiety and make them feel better.

Start by getting to know them, and make some notes about things that are safe to discuss. A medical assistant can build trust this way and put the patient at ease.

Give the patient a distraction from the anxiety. A good magazine or some elevator music might do the trick. The medical assistant can preview the pain with the nervous patient, associating something the patient is already familiar with to judge how painful the procedure will be.

The patient can bring a friend to the doctor’s office, or the medical assistant can remind patients that they are not alone. Let them know that others also have anxiety about going to the doctor’s office.

Get to Know Them

There is usually time when the medical assistant is in the exam room with the patient before the doctor begins working. Medical assistants can use this time to chat with nervous patients about matters other than their diseases and disorders.

Ask them where they are from, what they do for work, or whether they have any upcoming travel plans. Avoid sensitive topics such as whether the patient is married or has children, unless the patient brings it up. Some patients might be going through a divorce or struggling with infertility, and these are not issues they will want to discuss to reduce their anxiety levels. If they do bring up a spouse or child, though, then by all means, chat away.

Make Notes in the Chart

Depending on the practice, medical assistants might be writing in a paper chart or inputting information into a computer program. There is often a space to add additional information about patients. If there isn’t, medical assistants can ask the doctor or office manager where they can include notes about upcoming vacations, children’s graduations, and other good news that patients share.

When patients return, the medical assistant will have a “cheat sheet” handy to ask about their trip to Italy or what their son is doing after high school. This helps the nervous patient feel valued as an individual and reduces their anxiety.

A Nice Distraction

Patients sitting in the waiting room can read a book, do a crossword puzzle, or play a game on their smartphones. Keeping their minds off the subject at hand and using a fun activity to distract them is a great way for medical assistants to reduce nervous patient anxiety.

Most patients with mild to moderate anxiety, however, can benefit from listening to music or a guided visualization audio file. They might also like to look through a magazine while waiting.

A patient who feels cold in the exam room might appreciate a blanket. If something works well for a patient, mark it in the chart so you can remember it next time.

Preview the Pain

The biggest fear for some patients is the fear of the unknown. One way a medical assistant can help reduce anxiety in nervous patients is to relate the pain they will feel with something they may have already felt. For instance, relating a needle prick to a mosquito bite is an appropriate way to describe the level of pain they may feel.

Use Medication to Sedate

Some patients’ anxiety may be so severe that they will need a sedative. These patients can take antianxiety medication before they visit the doctor to relax their minds. This allows them to deal with the situation at the doctor’s office. This is especially helpful with nervous patients who have a fear of needles.

Bring a Friend

Having a friend or family member accompany patients to the doctor’s office can help reduce anxiety. Knowing they are not alone and have support to get them through the anxious situation can be helpful.

Let Patients Know They’re Not Alone

One reason that patients get anxious about going to the doctor is that they think they are the only ones who react with fear. Or they think their health is in extremely bad shape, and they’re afraid the doctor and staff will judge them.

Let nervous patients know that people with anxiety visit the office every day. The doctor treats people with all types of medical conditions, and the patient doesn’t have to worry about being judged. This knowledge can sometimes be enough to help a patient relax.

Did learning about how to reduce anxiety in nervous patients interest you? Ready for an exciting new career in the healthcare field?

The Medical Assistant program at Hunter Business School prepares competent, entry-level medical assistants in the cognitive (knowledge), psychomotor (skills), and affective (behavior) learning domains required for professional practice.

The Medical Assistant program provides hands-on experience in a real medical setting where you can foster professional relationships with actual patients. Medical Assistant students spend 160 hours in an externship in a live medical work environment where they are supervised and taught in order to gain valuable on-the-job training.

Contact us today to find out more about how to become a medical assistant on Long Island.