PURPOSE: Patient anxiety has been shown to be detrimental to many aspects of primary healthcare consultations. However, to date, the subject has received minimal attention within optometric practice. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to evaluate patient anxiety during a commonly conducted type of optometric examination, namely a contact lens fit. METHODS: Forty participants (15 male, 25 female; mean age 28.3 +/- 9.5) underwent a full contact lens fitting consultation. Skin conductance was recorded continuously to measure participant arousal; the physiological correlate of anxiety. A short form of the Speilberger state anxiety scale was also completed by participants before and after the contact lens fit. RESULTS: Skin conductance analysis identified arousal levels peak during history and symptoms, contact lens insertion and removal and practitioner advice. The Wilcoxen test identified a significant reduction in participant anxiety measured with the shortened Speilberger state anxiety scale after the consultation. CONCLUSIONS: Patient arousal levels fluctuate in a characteristic way throughout the contact lens fitting examination. Peak arousal levels occur during periods of 'communicative interaction' between the patient and the optometrist. Since anxiety is associated with poor attention, this suggests that optometrists should not assume that patients remember what they are told during the consultation. Furthermore, patient anxiety is significantly reduced after the examination, which may indicate that patient anxiety is moderated by experience.
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