Question Shazad Hussain Health

Skills for Reducing Patient Anxiety

What verbal and non-verbal communication skills would be used to reduce a patient's anxiety?

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Answer Expert #27522

Patient anxiety is recognised by healthcare professionals as a normal response to a physical illness (House and Stark, 2002). However, it has been reported that anxiety can have a detrimental effect on patients’ wellbeing and treatment effectiveness (Machado et al., 2009). Therefore, reducing anxiety is crucial and may be possible by establishing a trusting and comforting patient-healthcare professional relationship (Ong et al., 1995; Chaturvedi, 2008).

Healthcare professionals should be kind, attentive, and emphatic (Papagiannis, 2010). According to doctor Granger (The British Medical Association, 2015) ‘’a smile is incredibly important as a method to relieve anxiety and build an immediate connection.’’ A friendly physician will encourage patients to give information, which will allow establishing the right diagnosis and appropriate treatment (Ong et al. 1995). Stanton et al. (2000) demonstrated that when patients’ concerns are expressed, their anxiety is reduced. The ability to listen without showing any signs of impatience, paraphrasing and reflecting seem to all be vital (Riskó, 1992). A calm tone of voice and a slower rate of speech can express the physician’s empathy and acknowledgement (Rimer and Kreuter, 2006). Hurried verbal communication delivered in a tone of the voice expressing lack of interest will discourage the patient from asking questions and making informed decisions, adding to their anxiety (Klafta and Roizen, 1996). Anxiety is a fear of an unknown. Reports have confirmed an increased desire for information, especially in patients suffering from cancer (Blanchard et al., 1988). Therefore, providing information and using non-technical and easy-to-understand language may alleviate anxiety (Ong et al., 1995).

In conclusion, good communication skills enable healthcare professionals to provide patients with reassurance (Stevens and Rogers, 2009), which in turn reduces their anxiety and improves their wellbeing and coping abilities.


Chaturvedi, A. (2008) Communicating with Anxious or Angry Patient. Medicine Update, 18, pp. 845-848.

House, A., and Stark, D. (2002) Anxiety in medical patients. BMJ, 325, 207.

Klafta, J.M., and Roizen, M.F. (1996) Current understanding of patients' attitudes toward and preparation for anaesthesia: a review. Anaesthesia & Analgesia, 83(6), pp. 1314-1321.

Machado, L.A., Kamper, S.J., Herbert, R.D., Maher, C.G., McAuley, J.H. (2009) Analgesic effects of treatments for non-specific low back pain: a meta-analysis of placebo-controlled randomized trials. Rheumatology (Oxford), 48(5), pp. 520-527.

Ong, L.M., de Haes, J.C., Hoos, A.M., Lammes, F.B. (1995) Doctor-patient communication: a review of the literature. Social Science & Medicine, 40(7), pp. 903-918.

Papagiannis, A. (2010) Talking with the patient: fundamental principles of clinical communication and announcement of bad news. Medical Time Northwestern Greece, 6(Supplement), pp. 43-49.

Rimer, B.K., and Kreuter M.W. (2006) Advancing Tailored Health Communication: A Persuasion and Message Effects Perspective. Journal of Communication, 56(1), pp. 184-201.

Riskó, A. (1992) Non-verbal communication between cancer patients and