When you think about it, mammograms and anxiety kind of go hand in hand. For many patients the stress sets in the moment they are faced with making their annual appointment. It is understandable why patients dread their mammograms, but it does not have to be as bad as they work it up to be. When we create an experience for our patients that is a little less apprehensive, we make things easier for not only the patient, but for the radiologist and ourselves. There is really nothing we can do to completely take away a patient’s anxiety, but there are a few things we can do to help ease their anxiety during mammograms.
First things first, establish trust. Show your patient that their comfort, concerns, and fears matter to you. Listen to them. Learn to read your patients. Do not be dismissive. This is a very intimate exam; put yourself in their shoes and try to make their experience a positive one! A little compassion and empathy go a long way. It can be what saves a patient’s life because it is all too common that patients do not return for their annual exams because of their fears and negative experiences from their past exams.
Explain the Exam
Compression! Patients cringe at the thought of compression. This is especially true for baseline patients who have heard horror stories about how a mammogram can be awful. Compression can be one of our most challenging obstacles concerning patient anxiety, and it can often affect the quality of our images. Letting the patient know the importance of compression can be beneficial. If a patient understands why compression is necessary, they tend to be a little more willing to tolerate it. When you explain the exam to baseline patients, be honest. Let the patient know there will be some discomfort, but it should not be anything they cannot tolerate. Refrain from using the words pain or hurt to describe the exam. Be their cheerleader! Encourage them throughout the exam. Keep a positive attitude and let them know they are doing great. Positive reinforcement can really make a big difference.
Support Your Patients
The results of the exam are another big stressor. It is difficult at times, for patients to wait for their results, especially if they are there because they have an indication. We cannot give the patients the answers they need to ease their mind, but again, compassion and understanding go a long way and will help the patient feel supported. Most of the time, patients just need someone to listen.
Help Patients with Anxiety During Mammograms
Our jobs do not end at the images that we take. We have the ability to give so much more to our patients. It is not always easy, especially when we are the ones that usually tend to get the brunt of a patient’s anxiety. But our jobs can also be rewarding when we consider a patient’s emotional needs and help them maneuver through their anxiety.
As mammographers, the more we learn, the more we can help our patients. If you’re looking for more insights in mammography or looking to cross-train into mammography, I teach the Mammography Initial Training course at AHEC. The course is available as an in-person live event or a live webinar. Register today for our upcoming class on July 21th to July 25th.
Cristi Freiley, RT(R)(M)
Cristi is one of AHEC’s mammography instructors. She first received her mammography initial training through AHEC, and now she is sharing her knowledge and experience as one of the Mammography Initial Training instructors.