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Importance of Bedside Manners

Author: Dr. Rohini

What is the importance of bedside manners?

Bedside manner often refers to the way a medical professional interacts, handles and communicates with a patient in a doctor–patient relationship. Bedside manner is one of the most important factors which contributes to a positive patient experience. Having a provider who is friendly, attentive and compassionate can make a difference to the patient’s experience. Good bedside manners is directly proportionate to your success. However, based on patient feedback, bedside manners are extremely poor in India. Though I am a doctor,I have been a patient myself few times and I can’t say I completely disagree with this feedback. Why do what patients think matter? Healthcare is a service industry and customer (patient) service is everything.

Good bedside manner involves developing strong interpersonal skills and patient communications that enhances effective patient care and leads to improved patient outcomes.

Components, which play a part in developing a good bedside manner including compassion, honesty, respect, clear and concise communication and paying full attention to patients.

Whether a doctor is just beginning a career in medicine or has been practicing medicine for many years, a strong bedside manner is essential to be successful as a medical professional. 

The ability to communicate with patients with empathy, compassion, and in a manner the patient understands creates a strong doctor-patient relationship that enhances effective patient care. Physicians who demonstrate positive bedside manners are viewed by patients as providing a higher quality medical care.  

Numerous studies show that a doctor with great bedside manner and has strong, positive relationships with their patients are more likely to be professionally successful.

Why is Bedside Manner Important?

Some of the benefits of good bedside manner practices include:

  • Promotes positive patient experience in a health care facility.
  • Decreases patient’s stress level and help them have a positive attitude towards their treatment 
  • Improves treatment outcomes
  • Builds patient trust and enhances healing 
  • Creates a fulfilling career – Healthcare professionals who provide good bedside manners thrive in medical practice, receive favorable reviews, and get additional opportunities to advance in their career. 
  • Medical professionals who provide good bedside manners are less likely to be sued for malpractice than those with poor bedside manners.  
  • Treating patients with the respect and kindness helps protect the integrity of physicians all over the world. 

How to Develop Great Bedside Manners

Good bedside manners and communication skills are not an automatic part of becoming a doctor.  It helps if a doctor is a people person who is good at listening, but anyone can develop good bedside manners. Every physician can work on optimizing their bedside manners to become an effective and compassionate doctor. 

The following CLEAR tips which would help improve bedside manners include:

Connect with the patient

  • Build a connection with Patients – Introduce yourself by name. Letting the patients know your name is more hospitable and reassuring, making it easier for them to open up about their conditions.   
  • Explain your role in the care of your patients – You earn your patients’ confidence when they know what you can do for them.
  • First impressions are important for doctors – Shake the patient’s hand or nod politely, to make them feel a little more respected.  Acknowledge family members or friends who have accompanied the patient, usually with a handshake or a high-five for a young kid.  
  • Use the patient’s name – When meeting a patient for the first time, know their name and pronounce it correctly. Use the person’s last name prefaced by Mr., Mrs., Dr., or Rev to show respect. The only exceptions are if the patient is less than 18 years or if the patient requests to be called by their first name.
  • Greeting – Establish eye contact and greet every patient with a smile. Say a word or two to the patient such as “Nice to see you.” or “How are you?” to make patients feel welcome and put them at ease. 
  • Be punctual – An important aspect of bedside manners is to be on time and not to keep patients waiting for long. Value your patient’s time as much as your own. 
  • Look and act professional – Practicing proper bedside manner includes looking the part of a dependable and professional medical care provider. Look neat and tidy and dress according to the demands of the profession. Studies have shown that patients associate medical professionals to images of white coat. 
  • Prepare for the visit – Spend a few minutes reviewing the patient’s history and medical problems before meeting the patient. Try to anticipate questions and prepare how to answer them and have a treatment plan ahead of time. 
  • Be mindful of your tone – How we say things has an impact, so use a kind, friendly, helpful, and appropriate voice tone.
  • Respect – Always be polite and courteous to patients. Being courteous is an important technique that healthcare professionals can use to improve patient experience.  Say “please” and “thank you”. 
  • Be Compassionate – Patients need to be treated with compassion. They’re likely to be ill or in distress or in worst case scenarios, facing their own mortality. Showing them compassion and realizing their needs can have a big influence on how a person feels.  
  • Be Empathetic – As a healthcare professional, it’s important to care for patients and empathize with their circumstances. 

Listen to the patient

  • Listen – The most frequent complaint from patients, is that their doctors never listen to them. Listen to patients as it helps them to trust when they receive absolute attention and are taken seriously. Listen to verbal hints that reveals signs of stress and anxiety.  It’s important to value their feelings, opinions and communication.
  • Maintain eye contact – If you’re not looking at the patient in their eyes while s/he is talking it will be perceived that you are not listening to them, even if every single word has been heard and understood by you.
  • Be on the same eye level as the patient – It could be more troublesome to establish rapport with the patient when they have to look up at you.
  • Sit down – Try not to talk down to the patient as it may be perceived as condescending.
  • Be Relaxed – Acting relaxed and informal can help relieve patient’s stress, while nodding can make patients feel better about their situations. Their tension can be eased by talking affirmatively and staying positive. 
  • Avoid interrupting – Wait until the patient has finished speaking before making a point or asking a question. Interrupting someone, obstructs their thought flow and prevents listening to what they have to say. 
  • Practice active listening techniques – Open-ended questions encourage patients to open up and explain their symptoms. Asking open-ended questions is more valuable than basic, quantifiable ones that are answered with yes or no. 
  • Repeat information for accuracy – Repeat what you have heard to confirm that you are listening. It reinforces to the patient that you are paying attention.
  • Don’t overlook patient’s body language – Observe a patient’s demeanor, body language and their tone to pick up on things left unsaid and to gauge if the patient might be holding something back.  
  • Focus on the patient – Staying focused on the patient is necessary to provide good care. Speeding through the examination process or acting distracted, upset or fidgety can make patients feel that you don’t care and this would hurt your reputation.  While attending to patients, avoid taking calls so that you are able to focus on them. 
  • Be Aware of Your Own Body Language – Control any habits that may cause a patient to doubt your credibility, honesty or self-confidence.  
  • Be Detailed – Always give the best possible care to every patient. Be thorough in your examination and approach to treatment. Spend time with each patient.  There is really nothing worse than sending a patient on their way in three minutes if they’ve been waiting for hours to meet you. 

Explain what’s going on

  • Explain – Another big complaint from patients and families is that there is little or no explanation from doctors and this needs to be given more attention. Explain clearly why a certain test is necessary or why a specific treatment is prescribed. Also explain the side effects of the recommended test or treatment. 
  • Avoid using too much medical jargon – Use basic language and terminology which patients will understand when explaining their conditions, treatments, and procedures. Avoid overusing medical jargon which can be intimidating. Understanding more about their condition and what is involved will reduce some of the fear.
  • Speak slowly – Be patient and understand that your patients will not easily understand procedures, medicines, etc. Speak slowly, as this will help patients to have a better understanding of their situation and be more responsive to treatments.
  • Be an advisor – Most patients or their caregivers are adults and can make their own decisions. A doctor has to explain their recommendations and the potential consequences, so the patient can understand the pros and cons and make an informed decision. 
  • Honesty – Give complete information about the patient’s conditions, prognosis and side effects associated with the treatment procedure, without being blunt or rude. Incomplete or misleading information that might confuse or give false hope to the patient. 
  • Show photos related to the patient’s illness – While describing your patient’s condition and cure, visual aids could be used to help them better understand their problem or treatment procedure. 
  • Don’t argue – Everyone is a self-diagnosing physician thanks to internet. More patients argue because they think they are right about their illness.  Express your disagreement, respectfully, explaining with credibility why you disagree based on medical literature, research or your experience. Test your theories, run tests, assess their symptoms and talk to them but never engage them in an argument. 
  • Don’t be judgmental – Try not to judge people, especially to their face. If they need change something, tell them in an empathetic way. It hurts patient-doctor relationship when a patient feels self-conscience over how their doctor made them feel. 

Ask patients if they have understood

  • Asking Questions – Often a patient may not ask questions because they’re uncertain what the etiquette might be. A patient’s body language will often let you know if they’re understood everything they have been told and comfortable with what’s going on. 
  • Communication – Be clear while you speak to the patient and do ask them if they have failed to understand a certain term or issue correctly. Go through the entire procedure with them twice or thrice, to ensure that they understand it perfectly. 
  • Never insult your patient – Often doctors become annoyed if their patient asks them questions regarding very simple issues or if they ask about a certain problem repeatedly.  Remember that as a doctor you must provide them with appropriate and satisfactory answers.  If you don’t have sufficient time an intern or another doctor can attend to that specific patient.

Re-connect with patients

  • Validate patient concerns – Ease concerns by running tests to check and explore all possibilities before ruling out anything. Sometimes all a patient needs is someone to listen to them and give them a professional opinion. 
  • End with a friendly parting comment – Direct patient what to do next and schedule the next appointment for review
  • Follow up with the patient – Another remarkable bedside manner technique that can provide a positive patient experience, is to follow up with them after their treatment. This is a great way to ensure that they feel respected.

Good doctors have good bedside manners

Good bedside manners can impact practice.  Make sure to practice all of these bedside manners while attending to patients.

When patients go to a hospital or clinic they want to be treated with respect and receive the best care. The type of bedside manner that patients receive will influence their belief in the bedside manner they will receive in the future and plays an important role in a patient’s decision to go back to the healthcare facility in the future. It’s important that physicians have a great bedside manner and treat patients well.

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