A bedside manner refers most often to the way a medical professional interacts and communicates with patients. Sometimes the term is used in a positive way only. A doctor with a bedside manner is a good communicator, while one without one may offend or may be overly abrupt with patients. The term can also be described as good or bad.
A good bedside manner might include showing empathy, being open to communication, involving the patient in health decisions, and helping the patient feel at ease. A poor one can manifest as arrogance, failure to listen to a patient, abruptness, dismissal of a patient’s fears, and rudeness.
Concern about how medical professionals interact with their patients has increased in the past few years. Many medical schools for nurses and doctors now offer specific courses in practicing an empathetic approach to patients. In some hospitals, doctors are tested with mock patients who are meant to test their tolerance. These courses and tests hope to improve the behavior of doctors who are not good communicators and who have little sympathy for patients.
Another issue that reflects on bedside manner is the time crunch of the modern physician. Doctors now regularly see far more patients per day than most did in the past. Therefore, some are curt and abrupt because they do not have time to listen. This remains a problem because crucial information can be missed when a patient is not given enough time.
The same holds true for many nurses who are now taking care of more patients in hospital settings than before. Where nurses were once expected to be the support to hospitalized patients, often there is not enough time in the day to give such support.
Bedside manner can affect the quality of care a patient receives and also patient compliance on taking recommended medicines or following through with a doctor’s instructions. Physicians who interact with patients poorly may find they lose patients to other doctors or they may find their patients tend not to listen to their suggestions.
As well, approaching a patient with no empathy or sympathy has a tendency to intimidate or cause the patient fear. A doctor with a poor bedside manner may actually cause a patient to perceive more pain, if the patient is wracked with fear or anxiety. A positive interaction, on the other hand, may help a patient recover more quickly. Recovery can be related to positive attitude, which can be facilitated by both doctors and nurses.
Even with more demands on their time, physicians who strive for a good bedside manner are likely to retain their patients, and also to have their directions followed. Despite poor behavior, some physicians are so adept at their jobs that they are worth seeing even if this means putting up with rudeness.
A caricatured version of the worst bedside manner possible can be seen on the popular show House. Each week Dr. House is horribly abusive to his patients. Yet his behavior is tolerated because he is a fantastic diagnostician.
There are some watered down versions of Dr. Houses in real world settings, and most people can recall having seen a doctor with a poor bedside manner. Surgeons are the frequent targets of such accusations, although this is over generalizing. Some surgeons are terrific at talking with their patients and helping to allay fears regarding upcoming surgeries. Others are not particularly good with patients, but what they lack in communication skills is made up for by skill in the operating room.
It is helpful to choose a doctor whose interaction level fits one’s own personality. Just as one will not like every person he or she meets, one will not like every doctor. Finding a physician with a good bedside manner is helpful because one is more likely to feel comfortable telling one’s physician about private health matters, and as well, one is more likely to feel comfortable seeing a doctor when needed. A doctor who does not communicate well may inadvertently discourage patients from seeking medical advice when they should.