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Good 'Bedside Manner': A Priority For Patients

Going to the doctor means that another person will be poking around your body and perhaps your brain — the doctor-patient relationship is certainly among the intimate of professional relationships. As a patient, you wish to be treated with respect and care. You want to be listened to, and to be taken seriously, so much so that one survey published in the British Medical Journal reveals that patients tend to place more emphasis on the interpersonal relationship they have with their doctor than on the quality of medical care. 

Bedside Manner May Not Be Taught

While patients place great importance on a doctor's bedside manner — the way in which they interact with their patients — another study found that doctors aren't explicitly taught this skill. Instead of directly teaching new physicians how to relate to patients, the study found, clinical teachers merely model the skill. leaving doctors to pick them up as they go along, or not as the case may be. 

This is a problem. A lack of interpersonal skills in a doctor can result in much more than feeling you were treated rudely.

Could A Doctor With Poor Interpersonal Skills Put Your Health At Risk?

When a doctor brushes your symptoms off as nothing serious (merely overexertion, or PMS, or getting older, for instance) without carefully listening to what you are saying or conducting diagnostic tests, they may be placing your health at risk by missing early warning signals. When a doctor uses medical jargon you don't understand to explain the steps you need to take to manage a health condition, they may be placing your health at risk. When a doctor cuts your appointment short without giving you the chance to answer questions, they may be placing your health at risk again. When your doctor insists that the generic drug is an exact copy of the brand name drug while not taking the side effects you've experienced since the switch seriously, yes, they may be placing your health at risk. 

Even a doctor who is "just rude" while still providing quality care could be placing your health at risk, by inadvertently discouraging you from making appointments when you have a medical concern, just so you don't have to see them. A doctor who goes around with an incredibly negative attitude may, meanwhile, also put nurses, assistants, and admin staff under pressure to the point where they start making mistakes.  

If you feel "off" about your doctor, because they have failed to listen to your concerns or even just because you have a bad gut feeling, you as a patient are more than justified in looking for a new doctor. We know insurance and other issues may make this process hard, but a doctor you truly feel you can trust is so important. 

Being An Active Patient

You may also, of course, have an excellent doctor whose scientific and medical skills simply exceed their interpersonal skills on your hands, and being an active patient who voices their needs clearly may help you develop a good relationship with such doctors. 

Didn't understand the jargon? If "Sorry, could you repeat that in plain English?" results in an explanation you can understand, your doctor may be a keeper. 

Has your doctor not asked you if you have any questions? Actively saying that you have some additional concerns or questions may help. You can even write your questions down before you start your appointment. If your doctor pays close attention when you approach them in this manner, you may develop a relationship of trust with them. 

Also remember that patients' interpersonal preferences are as unique as they are. While one patient may appreciate small talk about the weather and consider a lack of it impersonal, another will prefer a doctor's appointment to be direct and to the point. A doctor who doesn't ask how your cat is doing can absolutely be an excellent physician. One who doesn't ask how you are doing, however, represents a huge red flag. 

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