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What to Do When You Don’t Know the Answer to a Patient’s Question

You Don’t Know the Answer to a Patient’s Question.Why That’s OK

It may happen first thing in the morning, after a coffee break, or at the end of a long, hard day. A patient or family member asks a question and the answer that comes to mind is “I don’t know.” Situations like this must be handled appropriately and with great care.

Stay Calm

Whatever you do, don’t hit the panic button. That can be a tall order. When the question is hanging in the air, even the most seasoned professional can feel anxious and uncertain. It can be reminiscent of school days when the most intimidating teacher stood waiting for the correct answer.

If panic creeps in, keep calm, especially on the outside. Your heart might start racing involuntarily; just don’t appear flustered. There’s one important tip that can help with this: Breathe deeply. A deep breath is calming, and it clears the head. If the answer is there somewhere, this may help it come to the surface.

Don’t Stop with “I don’t know”

When a patient or family member asks a question and there’s no available answer, the answer that comes to mind may be “I don’t know.” Even when that’s the case, the answer should never end there with those three words. Even “I don’t know, but I will find out” is a better response.

Sometimes, the question is confusing or unclear. In that case, it’s important to take a minute to clarify. Many questions in healthcare settings are very important, and sometimes the exact context is unclear. For example, when a patient asks what’s going to happen, do they mean immediately or in the long term? Clarifying the question also provides some time to think about how … to handle the remark or request.

Finding the Answer

Sometimes, especially when a diagnosis is hard to find, a patient may ask what’s going on. This can be a tough question for healthcare providers who are doing their best to figure it out because they understand the patient’s need to know. Again, “I don’t know” doesn’t inspire much confidence. In this case, “That’s exactly what I’m seeking to answer” may be a better response. It makes it clear that you’re right there with [the patient] and that an answer is forthcoming.

Many times, especially when there’s no diagnosis or when the patient’s condition is especially serious, there may be questions about test results or other information. If another member of the healthcare team should address the issue, don’t just say, “I don’t know.” Acknowledge the question and explain that the other person would be better able to answer [it].

We Can Help You Find Your Answers

At 365 Healthcare Staffing Services, we specialize in the recruitment and placement of healthcare professionals for per diem, travel, and permanent assignments in healthcare facilities across the country. If you have questions about your future or about available opportunities, we’d like to help you answer them. Give us a call at 310.436.3650 today.