As a nurse, you probably see your hospital or clinic as a place of safety and familiarity. It’s where you spend much of your day, it’s your place of work, and you probably know every corner. But for a significant number of patients, a hospital can be a terrifying place… and they can’t always explain why. Known as nosocomephobia, the fear of hospitals isn’t just inconvenient for hospital workers, it could also prevent people from seeking necessary medical attention.
So we’ve put together a list of ten reasons your patients might be scared to walk inside your hospital, plus a few tips on how you can help them get past their fears.
- Bad Memories – One reason a patient might fear a hospital is because of bad memories associated with the building. For example, losing a loved one, or a particularly traumatic visit in years past. The brain then conditions the same negative response over and over for every visit… even the ones that aren’t necessarily bad.
- Germs – Your patient’s fear might not stem from what they can see inside the hospital, but what they can’t Mysophobia (the fear of germs) can manifest itself in several ways: compulsory washing of hands, excessive soap use, avoidance of physical contact, etc. It can also make a person fear any place they associate with germs, such as a hospital.
- The Media – The media gets blamed for a lot of things these days, but sometimes, there’s some truth behind it. In entertainment media such as movies and TV shows, hospitals are often at the center of negative events—death, disease outbreak, even terrorist attacks. In the news media, hospitals are easy targets when it comes to scaring viewers into watching the 11 o’clock newscast—doctor errors, superbugs, and similar stories make for great, dynamic headlines. But when the focus is primarily on the negative, it gets very difficult for some people to remember that a lot of positive things happen inside hospitals as well.
- Death – If you spend any significant amount of time in a hospital, chances are you’ll encounter death in some way or another, and it’s completely understandable that people struggle with that. Being that close to death can also make you face your own mortality. If you have a particular fear of death (thanatophobia), a hospital will not be one of your favorite places.
- Small Spaces – Hospital rooms aren’t known for being spacious, and some places inside a hospital (an MRI machine, elevators, examinations rooms for example) get even tighter.
- Needles and Blood – Hemophobia (fear of blood) and trypanophobia (fear of needles) are both very real things, and hospitals are filled with the subjects of both. If a patient is uncomfortable with either, a hospital is the last place they’ll want to be.
- The Hospital “Look” – White Coat Syndrome (hypertension) is just one way that patients can respond negatively just by looking at a hospital, clinic, or doctor. For these patients, simply being around any of these three things can cause a spike in blood pressure, which can increase the feeling of anxiety. Hospital smells, schedules, lights, and even hospital gowns can help contribute to the general feeling of unease.
- The Billing Department – Navigating medical bills and insurance coverage can be a mine field, and sometimes, it’s simpler just to avoid the scenario altogether. Whether it’s distrust of the billing office, or just a dwindling bank account, money can often be a fear factor.
- Preexisting Anxiety – Over 40 million Americans deal with some form of anxiety. In other words, they didn’t just start worrying when they walked inside… that stress already existed, and it’s now being applied to your workplace.
- You – It’s not fun to consider, but the thing patients might fear most is you, the person holding the stethoscope or needle or IV bag. Iatraphobia is the fear of doctors, which can sometimes expand to include nurses as well. David Yusko of the University of Pennsylvania found that patients will “wring their hands; they’ll cross their arms or legs; or they’ll try to turn their body away from the image or hide their eyes from it. They’ll talk about their heart beating quickly, their hands getting sweaty and feeling dizzy or nauseous.”
So with such a broad list of reasons why a person might fear the hospital, how can you help them?
Obviously the best course of action is for patients to seek treatment or medication themselves from a licensed therapist or psychiatrist. But as a nurse, there are things you can do to help ease the anxiety. Show confidence in your own abilities and decisions—the more confident you appear, the more confident patients will be in you. Some patients find that being better educated on their treatment or diagnosis helps with anxiety. Others appreciate any opportunity to feel like they have control over their situation, so find chances to let them make choices… even if it’s just for the little things.
And finally, remind your patients that the fear is nothing to be ashamed of. They shouldn’t feel like they have to hide it or run from it or force it down. Mindful.org suggests that instead, we acknowledge that the fear or anxiety exists, we let it exist, then we move on to what’s in front of us. Trying to force your way past fear won’t just be ineffectual… it could also make the problem worse.
We all have our individual challenges to overcome. Fortunately for those whose challenge is a fear of hospitals, they have you to help them through it. We offer accelerated nursing programs and training throughout California.