Chris McAloon: De-escalating anxiety in the waiting room 

Sitting waiting for my relative to be called to see the consultant was a strange experience. We waited for their name to be called, wondering with every new person who appeared at the desk—will they be the one to call us? We saw other people come and go, some who had only just arrived. The sign clearly says that several clinics are running at the same time and patients may be called in different orders, but still, one couldn’t help wondering when we would be seen. 

We were waiting to see the consultant for what would be an important meeting regarding results and the next steps in management. In the waiting room, we are all very anxious, but trying not to show it to each other. Attempting useless small talk, just amplifies our anxiety. Seeing the clinic staff laughing and joking with other, which is perfectly normal, just seems to exaggerate the anxiety. 

Our appointment time comes and goes, and we are watching every door. Working out who is who and strategizing all possible outcomes in clinic whatever the results may be, makes the wait more unbearable. I end up asking the nurse how much longer the wait will be and being reassured we are next. Still the wait is over an hour, leaving us feeling anxious and stressed going into what proved to be an emotional consultation. 

Fast forward two days and I am sitting in my general cardiology clinic as I have done for the last eight years and running slightly late. This is just a usual clinic. I spend more time with a patient who needed a little more time to discuss the management plan. But this has left the next patient delayed. They attend stressed and anxious, which results in an initially difficult consultation while I offer apologies. I realise that for the first time I can truly empathise with exactly how my patient feels. I am able to offer a truly sincere apology. 

Overrunning clinics occur often for many reasons and patients are normally understanding. But reflection on how scared and powerless some patients feel when seeing a doctor is really important. It allows us to conduct the consultation in a more understanding manner. The doctor who saw my relative did this really well by directly acknowledging the time we had been waiting by apologising for the delay. She then proceeded to give us the time we needed to work through all the information and management implications. By embracing our worry and using it to explain the next management steps, the doctor de-escalated the anxiety for all of us. 


Chris McAloon is a Consultant Cardiologist at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Twitter: @DrChrisMcAloon

Competing interests: None declared