When the holiday season rolls around, there may be long stretches of time between appointments with your patients. If you know you might not be seeing your clients during this busy time and want to ensure they are staying on track with your treatment plans and protocols, here’s what you can do to support them through to the new year.
Getting organized before the holiday season kicks off will help your patients keep their anxiety in check by knowing you’re both on top of their management plan and your support isn’t disappearing just because you might not have an appointment together for some time. If you’re treating patients with conditions like IBS who are already prone to anxiety exacerbating their symptoms, it’s particularly important they know you have a strategy for managing the holidays.
Set up a daily, weekly, or monthly checklist for them to tick off until your next appointment—Canva has plenty of free checklists you can design and tailor to your individual clients. This way they know exactly what they’re meant to be doing and when, such as taking supplements or medications and reminders to continue with any mind-body therapy recommendations, like daily hypnotherapy or weekly exercise routines. A detailed checklist will help them relax, feel supported, and understand your long-term management plan for them won’t change just because the holidays are here.
Also, ensure you book them in for their next appointment in the new year, even if it’s some time into the future.
Tell them you’re looking forward to seeing them soon to remind them you’re still here for them and they now have an appointment they need to commit to.
Food for thought
If you’re recommending dietary interventions to support your clients, is your suggested plan realistic for the holidays when most people will be participating in food-based celebrations? Think about any adjustments you can make to your protocol to help your patients feel like eating through the holidays is manageable, possibly even enjoyable!
If you’re working with someone who has gut health issues and the low FODMAP diet (here is an article about how the low FODMAP diet compares to hypnotherapy) is their next step, talk to them about finding the right time in the new year to begin. Asking a client to work through all three phases over Thanksgiving and Christmas could derail even the most motivated patients with the best intentions. Sharing why you’re advising they don’t start phase one during the holidays may help them feel less anxious about missing out, and they should feel reassured knowing a plan is ready to go in the new year.
Point them in the right direction
If you have just begun working with a patient who is still a little unsure about their condition, point them in the right direction and recommend helpful resources. Many may be tempted to turn towards Dr. Google if they know you’re not on hand to set them straight. Whether it’s books, brochures, blogs, podcasts, or YouTube videos, let them know where they can access quality, professional advice that supports your treatment recommendations and their individual health and well-being needs.
For example, our Matter blog is full of helpful information and videos about a range of health concerns, including holiday eating and top travel tips for people with gut health issues. We also have plenty of resources for patients trying to quit smoking and feeling anxious about holiday celebrations undoing their progress. For IBS patients, Nerva co-creator, Dr. Simone Peters, shared the mechanics behind gut-directed hypnotherapy and the gut-brain axis on a podcast with Women’s Health magazine (available on iTunes or Spotify) that could be helpful. Popular wellness podcast Hurdle is for clients who are expecting a tough time over the holidays and need a little inspiration to see them through. If your patients are after some holiday eating ideas, Harvard’s School of Public Health has a few healthy suggestions, as well as a free downloadable healthy living guide filled with science-backed tips and advice.
Stock up on supplies
In your final appointment, if not before, check your patients know exactly what they need regarding medications, nutritional needs, supplements, or anything else you’re recommending in their treatment plan so they are prepared and organized.
If they’re traveling over the Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year period, give them a written list of what they need and how much, particularly if some medications may be difficult to source when they’re away from home. If they’re vacationing internationally, there may be limitations on traveling with particular medications or packing them in large quantities. Ensure they know the restrictions ahead of time so they can plan accordingly.
If you have them on an exercise regime, does their hotel have a gym or is their vacation spot known for its hiking trails? While you might not have time in your appointment to Google these types of ideas together, encourage them to do their own research so they know their options and can arrive prepared with a plan.
Recommend digital therapeutics
If your clients are used to seeing you regularly face to face or via a weekly Zoom appointment to check in, suddenly closing down communications for a month or two might be distressing.
This is when digital therapeutics can step in to help manage their anxiety and act as a complementary therapy to your recommended protocols.
Many emerging digital therapeutics are now available for a whole host of health and well-being concerns, from diabetes to menopausal hot flashes and migraines. For example, if you see patients for allergies or asthma-related issues, Propellor can lend support until you’re back on deck. Users attach a sensor to their asthma inhaler that delivers data and information to the app, tracking when and how often they use their meds. It helps people stick to their treatment plans, better understand what might have caused a flare-up, and keep you informed of their behaviors over the holiday break.
The holidays can be tough for many people, and anxiety and stress could trigger health-related symptoms for conditions your patients might be experiencing. The Happify app (available on Apple or Android) offers a series of tools, programs, and games to help your clients take control of their mental health and happiness. As Happify provides fun content that’s easy to engage with, it’s particularly appropriate for the holiday headspace when your patients might not be open to more intensive digital therapeutics.
If you see patients for IBS and know now is not the time for dietary interventions to commence, the Nerva app delivers gut-directed hypnotherapy over a six-week period. This may be just what they need to get them from Thanksgiving to the new year. Nerva is a low-risk option that works as either a stand-alone IBS management tool, or they can continue using Nerva alongside your recommended diet plan. Remind your patients that they can opt in to share their symptom reports with you so you can track their progress over the holidays.
If you’re feeling a bit hesitant about recommending digital therapeutics, just know they aren’t designed to reduce your client base and impact your business! Instead, it’s best to think of them as a teammate, not the competition. And during the holidays, calling on a teammate to pick up the slack, even temporarily, could be all your patients need to stay on track before they return to see you in the new year.
Reassurance and red flags
While you might not have an appointment scheduled for a while, reassure your patients about their options so they don’t feel completely adrift.
If you’re not working over the holiday period, let your patients know if you have colleagues who are. If you think it’s likely your clients will reach out to them over the holidays, brief your colleagues or trusted healthcare clinicians about their concerns and what they’re likely to contact them about.
Additionally, educate them about potential red flags associated with their condition before the holidays begin. Let them know if they experience one, they should go straight to the hospital for treatment. For example, if you have a patient with IBS who has noticed blood in their stool or recurrent vomiting, they can’t let these go.
Leave no doubt in their mind that they shouldn’t delay taking action just because they haven’t spoken to you about it first and you’re offline until January rolls around.
Instead, it’s important they understand there is no point in feeling anxious if there’s someone they can speak to about their concerns right away.
Holiday help for you
Think about your own boundaries over the holidays and how this will impact communication with your clients. How often healthcare practitioners speak with patients varies widely, and it can often depend on your patients’ needs and whether some interventions can’t wait. And we know many clinicians are happy to make themselves available around the clock on email, WhatsApp, phone calls, carrier pigeon, or whatever platform you tend to use to show your support.
While this may be reassuring for your patients, is this always best for you over the holidays? If you need to set boundaries, be open and honest, and give your patients as much warning as possible.
For example, let them know you won’t be monitoring your email between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but you will be available via text for emergencies only.
If you know your holidays will be quiet with fewer appointments in your calendar, this could be your chance to seek out new opportunities for you and your clinic. With a bit more time on your hands, give some thought to enrolling in a course to accrue continuing personal development (CPD) hours. Or have you been putting off a mound of paperwork or been meaning to finally sort out a marketing plan for your business? With fewer appointments, this could be the only time of year to get these types of tasks done.
The Wrap Up
The holiday season can mean long stretches between appointments with your clients, which can lead to anxiety and uncertainty about your support and care. Reassure your patients you’re still there to help by taking them through a step-by-step plan for their treatment during this period. Be realistic about dietary interventions during this time and supply trusted resources so your patients feel confident and secure. Help them plan their medications and supplements ahead of time if they’re traveling and educate them about which red flags can’t be ignored during this time. Always remember, it’s your holiday too, and think about setting boundaries and making the most of this time of year when your appointment schedule is less full.