Whether their candidate wins or loses can make a difference in whether patients feel elated or experience anxiety, distress, fear or even physical manifestations, according to two Harvard University researchers.
Patients often suffer in silence. For all the talk about how the election and its fallout have left people stressed out, Americans didn’t go to their doctors as a result, one recent study found: There was no increase in visits to primary care physicians, who provide much of the country’s behavioral healthcare treatment.
Doctors and other clinicians should be prepared to help patients with health issues that can result from reaction to societal events, including the recent presidential election, write David R. Williams, Ph.D., and Morgan M. Medlock, M.D., in the New England Journal of Medicine study.
They suggest five ways for doctors to respond to patients who feel marginalized or have concerns about hostility and discrimination, according to the new report:
1. Address patients' emotional distress. Be aware that some patients may be reluctant to use healthcare and social services. Clinicians can help by creating safe spaces where patients can express fears and concerns and are met with compassion and support. Initiate discussions with patients about social stressors in their lives.
2. Take a strong stand against hate crimes, discriminatory political rhetoric and incivility. Make it clear that health services are provided to everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, religion or citizenship status.
3. Get educated about local and federal policies and their effects on vulnerable people. Ensure that patients understand their rights and avenues for seeking help. Connect vulnerable patients and families with local advocacy groups and strengthen alliances with community organizations that can help people facing social and health challenges.
4. Direct patients to resources to reduce some of the negative effects of stress. That could include social groups or spiritual or religious organizations.
5. Be more actively engaged in advocacy and policymaking. Generate greater awareness of the challenges faced by stigmatized populations and foster a culture of inclusion. Organizations may offer antiracism and bias training, as well as cultural competency training, for all staff.