Aesthetic Treatments

4 Doctors Share Their Best Patient Distraction Techniques

By Alix Tunell
Smiling face in the hands of women

iStock / dendong

Pediatricians have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves when it comes to distracting young kids from the pain of vaccinations. Mine, at the time, always pretended he was “checking to see how big my muscles were” as he squeezed my bicep, then — out of nowhere! — jabbed a needle into my arm. I remember how angry I was afterwards, not because it hurt, but because I was being lied to. My mom finally had to start warning doctors, “Don’t surprise her. You have to tell her what you’re going to do before you do it.”

But now, as an adult electing to get injectable filler, all I want is to be tricked. Forget the “ready, 1, 2, 3” count; I want the nurse talking to me about her wedding invitations while being physically distracted so I have no room to think about the disorienting “popping” sound I hear when being injected with filler. 

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[Editor’s note: Injectable filler is a temporary treatment that adds volume to areas of the face such as the lips, cheeks, and laugh lines. Like any medical treatment, it has potential risks and side effects. Be sure to talk to a doctor to see if it’s right for you. Have more questions? Chat with our team of trained aesthetics specialists now.]

My most memorable distraction experience was last year, when I got submental liposuction from plastic surgeon Dara Liotta, MD. As I was wheeled into the operating room under IV sedation, Dr. Liotta asked what music I wanted to listen to and I peacefully drifted off to “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. When I look back on the surgery, all I can remember is the sweet, sweet voice of Stevie Nicks and laughing in my tranquilized state at a nurse talking about penile implants. That is to say, it was a better morning than most.

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Medical providers realize that getting a procedure — whether it’s injectables or surgery — might be nerve-wracking for some people, which is why they’ve come up with distraction strategies to keep patients calm and relaxed. (Unless, of course, you’re like I once was and need to be kept in the loop the entire time. In which case, don’t be afraid to ask!) Below, four doctors share their best techniques.

“In surgery, especially, I like it to be a light and fun environment. I will often ask patients what they’re going to watch on Netflix® while they recover because that’s a question that gets people out of the moment and makes them think about being home and done with the procedure. Another one I use a lot to mentally bring people out of the space is: What’s the best vacation you’ve ever been on? I don’t ask about family because I think that makes people worry about the risks right before surgery. And, yes, I always ask what kind of music they want me to play.” — Dara Liotta, MD, plastic surgeon at Facial Plastics NYC

“I inform [patients] in advance that I’m not going to talk when injecting, and I like the room to be quiet so they don’t make any facial expressions in response to any conversation. Also, it’s extremely difficult to concentrate on two things at once — so I give them a stress ball and demonstrate to them how they should focus on squeezing and releasing it as I inject. Since I give them ice immediately after injecting [filler], most patients are very pleasantly surprised at how relatively comfortable the whole process is.” — Loretta Ciraldo, MD, dermatologist in Miami and founder of the Dr Loretta® skincare line

“When injecting around the eyes, I like to distract the patient. When injecting lips, I will typically numb them. I like to do this for pain purposes.” — T.Y. Steven Ip, MD, plastic surgeon in NYC, Beverly Hills, and Newport Beach. 

"Before any procedure, I always encourage patients to choose their own music to play in the background in order for them to feel more relaxed.” — Ni-Jui James Liang, MD, plastic surgeon at South Bay Plastic Surgeons™ in Torrance, CA

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