Poor bedside manner can harm patients’ health

By Shayna Brouker • Published: October 3rd, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Does your doctor’s demeanor rub you the wrong way? Even if you’re happy with the way she inspects your ailments, the way a physician treats you as a person — not just as a patient — is just as important as the diploma hanging in her office. Bedside manner matters, and a new study shows it can play as big a role in your health as medicine.

Researchers from Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles and the Johns Hopkins University compared surgeons’ behavior in the operating room with their patients’ outcomes. They found that when doctors were more considerate to O-R staff, their patients were more likely to survive and avoid post-surgery problems than the patients of despotic doctors. The researchers believe the stress surgeons face when having a person’s life in their hands, combined with the anonymity granted by scrubs, gloves and a mask contribute to a more brisk manner when working with both patients and hospital staff.

But rudeness can extend beyond the O-R. The researchers also reviewed studies of medication orders at hospital pharmacies and found that three-quarters of pharmacists and nurses avoid confronting surly docs to discuss possible adverse medication interactions or prescription mistakes. Needless to say, this lack of communication can be downright dangerous.

Other studies have found that the foundations of compassionate care are built early when doctors-to-be are in medical school. Medical students often learn behavior from residents and attending physicians.

There are a few things patients can do, though, to get doc to listen better: When describing your symptoms, keep it short, sweet and specific. Know your family history. And don’t apologize for taking up their time. Doctors are paid to treat you, and that includes listening. If nothing else, find a new physician if necessary; your health is worth a ready ear.