March 21, 2006

Doctor’s Bedside Manner Still What Counts

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People appear to judge a good doctor based on old-fashioned bedside manner rather than technical knowledge and skills, according to a new study.

Researchers found that patients at two large U.S. medical centers agreed on a number of qualities that define an "ideal" doctor -- including honesty, compassion and respectfulness.

In describing their worst experiences with a doctor, patients often cited providers' arrogance, dismissive attitude and "callousness" in discussing their condition. Technical expertise, on the other hand, was rarely mentioned in patients' assessments.

The findings, according to the study authors, point to the importance of doctors learning and cultivating interpersonal skills, as well as technical ones.

Dr. Neeli M. Bendapudi of Ohio State University in Columbus led the study, which is published in the March issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

"A physician who pays personal attention to the patient, who is respectful, compassionate and competent, that's what every patient wants," editorialist Dr. James T. C. Li of the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota, said in a statement.

Li has helped develop new programs at the Mayo Clinic to teach doctors how to better communicate with their patients.

According to Li, the ideals that study participants cited can be taught to doctors in a number of ways, such as by having medical residents watch skilled senior doctors interact with patients. He notes that many medical schools and medical centers have developed programs on doctor-patient communication, but more needs to be done.

"Can health care really ever be high quality if patient-physician interaction is hurried, disrespectful, cold, callous, and uncaring?" Li writes in the editorial.

The study findings are based on interviews with 192 randomly selected patients about their best and worst experiences with doctors at Mayo Clinic centers in Rochester or in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Overall, patients most appreciated the quality of "thoroughness" -- for example, a surgeon who fully explains the procedure, then continues to follow-up with the patient during recovery.

Patients also said they wanted doctors who were confident, respectful, straightforward, empathetic, compassionate and interested in them as individuals.

According to the study authors, everyone from doctors-in-training to practicing physicians should try to understand how their patients perceive their demeanor. One way, they suggest, is for medical practices to periodically give patients "customer service"-like surveys.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic Proceedings, March 2006.