7 Ways to Handle a Patient’s Fear of Scars
March 5, 2019
After more than 20 years of asking thousands of patient care coordinators to list the non-financial reasons patients don’t schedule, fear of scarring is consistently cited in the top five. Addressing this fear requires a unified approach that is consistently delivered by everyone in the practice. If a patient doesn’t feel his or her fear about scars has been addressed, trust erodes, leading them to potentially seek and choose a different surgeon.
We interviewed five aesthetic surgeons about how they handle patient concerns and questions about scarring. Here’s what they told us.
Take patient concerns about scarring seriously. Yes, patient fears may be due to stories and photos they found on the Internet. But it’s in the surgeon’s best interest to address them, even if they seem melodramatic. A little empathy and education will go a long way toward boosting patient confidence.
2. Watch your word choice.
Instead of using the word scar, use incision, incision line, or incision care plan. As one surgeon put it, “a kitchen accident or a bad fall leaves a scar, but an aesthetic surgeon makes an incision.” Make sure staff understand this distinction and can explain it to patients.
3. Set expectations.
Most patients don’t understand how the skin heals or what causes a scar in the first place. Educate them about the fact that it can take up to a year or more. Establishing a realistic timeline on the front end will save patients from wondering why the incision doesn’t look like they thought it would two months post-op.
4. Train the staff.
Don’t assume the entire staff knows how the surgeon wants concerns about scarring to be addressed, or which terminology to use. Surgeons must sit down with staff and provide the details. Review photos of “good” and “bad” healing. Train each employee that speaks with patients – clinical and non-clinical – how to answer questions and explain the products and treatments the surgeon recommends.
5. Show, don’t just tell.
Images are more effective than simply telling the patient that their incision will be red and swollen during the first few weeks. Include the discussion of incision line healing in the review of before and after photos. One surgeon shows a series of incision photos over an entire year, indicating that the line will look red and puffy for a while, but does heal and diminish as the months go by.
6. Provide written material.
Deliver handouts at both the consultation and pre-op visit that reinforce the surgeon’s incision care plan, specific products that may be recommended, and why the patient’s participation is vital to a good outcome. Post this material on your web site too.
7. Keep patients involved.
They’ve got to take an active role in the healing process. That means they must agree to a regimen of self-care. Show them how to perform self-massage on the incision line and ask them to “teach it back” during pre- and post-op visits to ensure learning. Reinforce incision care during follow up visits.