Dr Zoe Williams shares her tips on how to deal with the ‘Fear of Finding Out’
FOFO is the punchy acronym for ‘Fear of Finding Out’. It’s not a disease, and can barely even be called a syndrome, as it’s actually a normal human trait, which is experienced more strongly by some more than others. Each and every one of us has apprehension, fear, or outright terror of hearing bad news, especially when it comes to our health. But delaying a diagnosis, through FOFO could be putting your health, and even your life at risk!
To help people overcome FOFO and the barriers which are causing people to delay or avoid seeking medical support, global biopharma company AbbVie has launched Live:Lab – a unique, collaborative programme, bringing together leading minds from the worlds of healthcare, technology and creativity. Live:Lab aims to help people – particularly those in their middle age - engage more with their health, improve their wellbeing and reduce the burden on the NHS, and starts with aiming to uncover why people, particularly those in middle age don’t go to the doctor when they might need to.
Dr Zoe’s tips for dealing with FOFO:
1. Spot the signs
Here are some examples of the psychological barriers that people experience when they have the ‘Fear of Finding Out’1.
- You put off going to the doctor because you can’t make an appointment
- You are worried what the doctor might find
- You are too busy to find time to go to the doctor
- You fear the GP environment, potential tests or treatments that may be offered
2. Listen to those around you (partner, friend, relative, colleague)
Men and those who are single are the most likely to postpone seeking medical advice. In fact, men often come to see me in my surgery stating that they have been reluctantly forced to do so by their partner. Usually it’s a sigh of relief when they get the all clear. On the occasions that further tests, a diagnosis or a referral is made, they are glad to be no longer fearing the worst. Either way, they are always glad that they had that nudge to come to the GP.
3. Don’t delay
It has been shown that delay worsens prognosis for mental health, heart attacks, stroke, many cancers, arthritis and infectious diseases, among other conditions2.
It is arguable that many years ago, a level of FOFO might have been protective. Historically some diseases were not diagnosable, let alone treatable, but with the advancements in science, medicine, surgical techniques and medical technology, things are very different now. Some diseases, such as HIV had such a poor prognosis that FOFO was a major issue, putting the individual’s health, and that of others at serious risk. HIV is now considered a chronic, manageable condition, and with the right treatment and care the prognosis of many patients is excellent. So don’t let your mind fool you that we are still living in the medical dark ages!
4. Don’t let fear of the ‘C’ word stop you getting checked
Of course, cancer is the first thing that springs to mind for most, when considering FOFO. A new study published in the British Journal of General Practice has found that a third of cancer patients diagnosed as an emergency in England had not consulted their GP beforehand3.
Cancers diagnosed as emergencies are more likely to lead to poorer outcomes as these are usually at a late stage. It is crucial that people with symptoms of possible cancer contact their GP immediately. More times than not a GP can put your mind at ease, but if there is a significant risk of potential cancer you will be seen by a specialist within 2 weeks. Take bowel cancer for example, more than 9 in 10 bowel cancer patients will survive the disease for more than 5 years if diagnosed at the earliest stage4.
5. Your GP wants to see you
Yes, GPs are overworked and stressed, and demand for appointments is high, so much so that it can be difficult to get an appointment at times. However, (and I can’t stress this enough), we still want to see you, especially if you are having symptoms that could be a sign of chronic disease or cancer.
It is never a waste of a doctor’s time if you are concerned. Still not convinced? Well, if you won’t do it for yourself, seek help early for the sake of the NHS. Both treatment costs and medical professional time requirement increase with more advanced disease than early disease.
6. Use the internet with caution
‘Dr Google’ versus real life doctor…The real life doctor wins every time. Do a google search on cough, and the third item listed is lung cancer, so no wonder people get FOFO and become too fearful to seek medical help. It takes a minimum of 10 years training to become a GP, so let us use our expertise to help you. If you are going to consult the internet, choose reputable sites, such as NHS choices and patient.co.uk.
You may feel that visiting the GP is intimidating. If speaking to a GP face to face is difficult, then there are many other ways that you can communicate with us. Telephone consultations are offered by most surgeries, particularly good if you’re having difficulty fitting in time for an appointment.
Dr Zoe Williams is a media medic and Live:Lab collaborator
- Cancer Research UK. Bowel cancer survival statistics. 2015