6 Tips to Calm Patients Who Don’t Like Needles

6 Tips to Calm Patients Who Don’t Like Needles

You’ve seen it a million times before. A patient comes in with all the classic symptoms. They’re sweaty. They’re shaking. They’re pale.

No, they don’t have the flu. They’re afraid of needles.

Fear of needles isn’t uncommon, and many of your patients may opt out of receiving a flu shot or other needed vaccination because they’re nervous about needles.

Related: 7 Tactics for Happy Pediatric Vaccinations

Here are six ways to help patients who are afraid of needles remain calm, so they can have a hassle-free and pain-free flu vaccine experience.

1. Offer distractions

Distracting a nervous patient redirects the focus from the needle to something less scary.

Consider putting an “I Spy” or giant word search poster in your consultation room for kids to search while you administer the shot. The fun task will pull the patient’s attention away from the needle.

For older kids, consider asking the parent to engage him or her in conversation about schoolwork, sports or a hobby as you administer the shot.

And for adults, ask them about what they do for a living or if they have plans for the coming weekend to get them talking and distract them from the shot.

2. Focus on breathing

Coach your patients through a flu shot by encouraging them to use calm, deep, controlled breathing.

Ask nervous patients to inhale for a count of four, and then exhale for a count of four all through their nose. Count or breathe with them and continue the breathing exercise until they calm down.

Using this, or another calming breathing exercise, can prevent a panic attack and relax a nervous patient on the brink of a meltdown.

Plus, calming breathing can help patients relax their muscles, making the shot less painful. It also directs their attention to the breathing exercise and away from the shot.

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3. Give out rewards

An incentive gives nervous kids a reason to remain calm during a shot, so consider working with parents to offer a treat to well-behaved kids.

If a patient remains calm during the shot, give her a lollipop or a sticker. Or, suggest that parents create their own reward for their kids if they handle the procedure well, such as purchasing a new book or a toy, or going bowling.

Outlining these incentives ahead of time will encourage kids to remain calm, and to cooperate with you during the shot. It can also give them something positive to focus on during the procedure.

Rewards probably won’t incentivize adult patients to get their flu shot as easily. Although, you could offer a small coupon for your front end with every flu shot. It’s a nice touch that might encourage adult patients to get their flu shots when they otherwise would opt out.

4. Channel nervous energy

Instead of fighting kids with nervous energy, embrace it and channel their fidgets into positive movements.

Conduct a one-minute dance party, do simple yoga poses or do power poses, where you pretend to be a superhero, to get kids moving and loosened up before the shot.

Moving can help take their focus off the shot, and if you participate in the fun, it can lighten the mood in your examination room.

You could also ask nervous adult patients to flex and relax their arm muscles or assign other exercises, like a few pushups, to distract them before the shot. Plus, a few arm movements can help reduce tension in their arms, so the shot will hurt less.

5. Lend support

If a kid is especially nervous about getting his flu shot for the first time, ask his parent or older sibling to get the flu shot first while he watches.

This will provide the nervous kid with an example of what he can expect, and he’ll be less nervous once he sees how simple, and painless it is when his parent or sibling gets the shot.

This works for adults, too! Encourage spouses, siblings and friends to get their flu shots together for support.

6. Manage pain

Before you administer the shot, help diminish a patient’s fears about the pain by having a plan for pain management.

For example, prepare an ice pack to give to the patient after you administer the shot to help numb any pain, and advise patients to rub the area to alleviate soreness.

If you can minimize the pain after the injection, patients will feel less anxious about the pain the next time they have to get a shot.


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