Patient anxieties affect medical treatment

by Anthony Cusat-

The Lewis Gale Hospital in Blacksburg, Va., Thursday, March 23, 2023. (Anthony Cusat, JMC 4814). The Lewis Gale hospital is able to run a variety of medical tests on patients.

Despite over one billion visits to doctor’s offices in 2021, different forms of medical anxiety continue to affect patients in need of care. White-coat hypertension, a temporary spike in blood pressure when in a doctor’s office, is just one example of the results of medical anxiety on physical health, and has implications for future heart troubles.

While some amount of anxiety is normal, too much anxiety in a medical context creates challenges for receiving proper treatment.

Medical test anxiety is most commonly broken down into fear of needles, the fear of the doctor and the fear of tight spaces for evaluations like magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs). These different medical anxieties have the potential to affect both health outcomes and physician practices. According to the National Library of Medicine, the fear of needles is higher in younger populations but still accounts for 16% of adult patients avoiding influenza vaccination.

The home testing section at a local chain drug store in Blacksburg, Va., Wednesday, March 22, 2023. (Anthony Cusat, JMC 4814). Various tests can be done by individuals outside of a doctors office.

The avoidance of medical testing, even when exhibiting symptoms of an illness, is also something medical professionals commonly see on the job. “A lot of people will refuse to actually get the tests,” said Alonda Johnson, a medical office technician in the New River Valley. Medical tests are not forced on patients so some still walk away without confirmation of a diagnosis.

Johnson also said that there can be additional anxiety created from testing illnesses that coincide with societal stigmas like sexually transmitted diseases. For example, the labeling of monkeypox as a disease mainly spread by men who have sex with men during the 2022 outbreak created concerns among experts that attempting to get the vaccine would carry a stigma similar to the one surrounding HIV treatments.

In terms of medical professionals’ responses to these various fears, Brendan Huang, a medical assistant, said that anxiety in patients is something that those who work in the field experience every day and were taught how to handle. 

“We’ll have normal conversations with the patients just to get a vibe of how their anxiety is if they do show any signs, then try to talk things through as much as possible.”

Along with fostering comforting environments, new advancements in technology look to continue to reduce the extreme anxiety those undergoing medical tests and procedures may face. VR technology has already been shown to reduce pain and anxiety during puncture procedures in children. 

Additionally, letting physicians know about concerns and general anxiety management techniques like breathing exercises can help with milder worries. For overwhelming anxiety, talking to a mental health professional might be the best course of action.

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