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How can pharmacists help patients overcome the 'fear of finding out'?

"Community pharmacists can advise patients who seem uncertain about seeking treatment"

Behaviour expert Dr Carmen Lefevre takes a closer look at the role community pharmacy plays in helping people to overcome the fear of receiving their diagnosis

Research has shown that the phenomenon I refer to as the ‘fear of finding out’ is a major psychological barrier that prevents people from seeking medical advice, even when they have worrying health symptoms.

But what does this actually mean for these people, and what role can community pharmacists play in helping the UK’s population face up to niggling health concerns?

The fear of finding out refers to a complex fear barrier, where an individual may experience a juxtaposition of emotions. While someone may be aware that they have a worrying symptom, and be concerned about their health, they may not seek medical advice due to fear barriers – including the fear of treatment or painful procedures, fear of wasting a doctor’s time, and fear of making lifestyle changes.

Over the past year, I have been part of a working group of experts who have come together to help empower UK adults to overcome this fear.

Community pharmacists are in a good position to provide advice for people who may seem hesitant or uncertain about seeking treatment. Suggesting the patient speaks to you in private may lessen any potential fear of embarrassment. As no appointment is needed, the convenience factor might also be appealing.

When in a consultation, it can be useful to draw on the motivational interview approach. This involves asking open questions and encouraging a patient to cognitively understand their current situation. Posing open questions may mean a patient is more likely to admit to the true reasons that they are not engaging in health services – the fundamental issue with the fear of finding out.

Early diagnosis and treatment can save lives, and only by recognising and better understanding the fear of finding out will we be able to help build a more sustainable NHS.

Dr Carmen Lefevre is honorary senior research associate at University College London’s centre for behaviour change

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