If you have a fear of doctors or hospitals, even going for a routine checkup can be a source of extreme anxiety. Confronting a legitimate medical problem could send you into a tailspin, or even lead you to avoid treatment altogether. Although it is important to seek treatment for medical phobias, or any other health concerns you have, carefully choosing your providers and facilities can also go a long way towards minimizing your fears.
Consider the Type of Doctor
For many years, doctors were considered the center of care. They were seen as know-all experts, and patients were expected to conform to their instructions without question. Some doctors still follow this model, spending very little time with their patients. Some patients prefer this method, believing that they cannot understand the technicalities involved in their particular conditions. If you have a medical phobia, you may prefer to simply follow a doctor's instructions, as this takes some of the pressure off of you to make the "right" decisions.
However, this model feels uncomfortable to many patients. If you have a medical phobia, you may feel that knowledge is power and find that your anxieties are worsened by a practitioner who takes an authoritative attitude.
A newer model of health care is patient-centered. Doctors who follow this philosophy value educating patients on their conditions, explaining why a particular treatment may be necessary, the risks and benefits of that treatment, and other available options. This type of doctor will encourage you to seek a second opinion and research your condition. He or she will help you understand the factors that may have contributed to your illness, and ways of preventing future recurrences. This type of doctor will also help you understand the interplay between multiple conditions and the effects of medications.
Many people with medical phobias find that a patient-centered doctor can soothe their anxieties and help them feel more comfortable with treatment.
Choose Your Hospital Facilities
No matter where you live, odds are good that you are reasonably close to more than one hospital. Most doctors have privileges at multiple facilities, allowing you to choose the facility that meets your needs. Visit your area hospitals. Eat dinner in the cafeteria. Speak with nurses. Ask to view the imaging labs. Get a true feel for each location while you are healthy, so that you know where you prefer to go if you need a procedure. Choosing a facility that makes you comfortable can go a long way toward easing your medical phobia.
Many newer hospitals have added facilities and services that make the experience feel more like a resort or spa than a traditional hospital setting; my father’s new hospital of choice has an MRI room done in a beach theme, complete with sandcastle-shaped MRI machines. Surprisingly, considering the perks, many of these hospitals accept most insurance plans, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. If you have coverage, check with your provider to see if your particular hospital of interest will be covered. Although these services are not "necessary," some patients may find that they help to ease their anxieties, particularly when suffering from a medical phobia. Of course, your main focus should always remain on the technical skills of the doctor and hospital staff.
I happen to suffer from medical phobias, and I am primary caregiver for my chronically ill father. After what I found to be a nightmarish experience at our local hospital, we were pleased to discover the new, spa-like setting hospital that offered the afore mentioned beach theme in our area -- and it accepts his insurance. The new hospital is also one of the top-rated in the country. When Dad underwent a recent cardiac catheterization and stent placement, I found that my own phobic responses were greatly minimized by the facilities and level of care at the new hospital; while he doesn't suffer from the same phobia, his natural anxiety about the stay seemed lessened, too.
A serious medical phobia generally requires professional help. However, choosing the right facilities and the right providers can go a long way towards minimizing your fears. Just remember that you do have a choice.
How have you dealt with medical phobias when you or someone you love needed a medical procedure? Share your experiences with others in the same boat in the About.com Phobias Forum.