When is your doctor’s bedside manner vital?


When you need heart surgery, you want only one quality in your physician: medical skill. You may not care whether the doctor is a good communicator, compassionate and caring — traits we call “a good bedside manner.”

However, in general, patients say a doctor’s personality and the quality of the doctor-patient relationship are very important. In fact, a 2013 Vanguard Communications survey found that online complaints about matters such as doctors being dismissive of concerns, late for appointments, hurried, or not listening well, were almost four times more common than criticisms about medical abilities.

Of course, the best-case scenario is getting the whole package: a talented physician who listens and communicates well. But there are times when one of those skills trumps the other. So when is it most important to demand good bedside manner and when should you focus more on skill?

When bedside manners are the key


• It is vital your family physician has them as an open and long-term relationship is most beneficial to your well-being. You should feel comfortable about sharing personal health information. Your doctor should be a good listener so that he or she can get a good handle on all your health details.

• It is also important when you’re coping with a chronic illness such as asthma or diabetes. Research suggests that a strong doctor-patient relationship encourages you to take medications as prescribed, get timely screening tests and make the right lifestyle changes.

• Working with a doctor who takes the time to break down complex information is also helpful when you are dealing with a serious condition such as cancer. That kind of illness requires a number of decisions and good doctor-patient communication is very important.

When medical skills are important


• In the case of a single event like a surgery. You’ll have little interaction with the surgeon and no long-term relationship, so you can probably put up with a lack of interpersonal skills as long as he or she is a good clinician.

• If you’re dealing with a condition that’s rare or hard to diagnose, you may have to choose a doctor based solely on clinical skill and his/her experience in caring for people in similar situations.

• In a medical crisis, it’s great if the emergency department doctor is kind. But bedside manner has to take a backseat to experience and skill in that scenario, especially in the middle of the night or during weekends, when emergency departments are under the most pressure.

However, if the emergency department visit turns into a hospitalisation, you want to make sure you will be listened to and respected. A Consumer Reports National Research Center survey of 1,200 people who had recently been hospitalised found that those who felt they rarely received respect from the medical staff were two and a half times as likely to experience a medical error (such as a hospital-acquired infection, wrong diagnosis, or prescription mistake) as those who felt they were treated well.

Source: Consumer Reports on Health
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