In a recent essay for the BMJ, Brenda Denzler issues clear, concise advice for clinicians on how to approach patients in ways that will encourage and enable them to engage in their care. Remarkable not only for her flawless writing, Denzler issues her advice in the context of medical trauma, on behalf of patients who, like her, react with debilitating emotion to even the prospect medical care. This is not run-of-the-mill patient engagement!
As Denzler explains in “The Treatment Terrifies Me More Than the Disease,” memories of a dramatic, life-saving procedure performed when she was 5 years old still haunt her more than 60 years later. She reports dealing with dread, stomach pain, and “full-blown” panic attacks, sometimes triggered only by awareness that there is a message waiting for her on her physician’s patient portal. It is a huge credit to her strength of mind and purpose that she has in recent years been able to cope well enough to have successfully received treatment for aggressive cancer.
She now writes about patient empowerment and co-moderates a support group for people who have been traumatized by medical treatment of various kinds: harsh handling (physical or emotional), harm due to medical mistakes, or having had ailments dismissed as psychosomatic, exaggerated or imaginary.
Denzler’s advice for working with traumatized patients applies to us all. She urges clinicians to help patients feel “empowered and in control” by:
- Granting patients the time they need—no rushing!
- Listening openly to patients. Hear their stories without prejudice.
- Including patients in the diagnostic process and in deciding dwhich treatments to pursue.
- Not taking it personally if the patient at times acts angry or scared. Sometimes they are, and it’s probably not about you.
You can find two other essays by Brenda Denzler on Engaging Patients: