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Your Doctor’s Bedside Manner Can Kill You



How important is your doctor’s bedside manner to you? Some people couldn’t give two hoots if their doctor is terse, arrogant, and borders on rude; all they want is the expertise that will get them better. Other people are so put off by rudeness that they never consult the same offensive doctor again.

Over the years, studies have shown that your doctor’s bedside manner actually plays a role in your recovery time. In a worst-case scenario, having a rude doctor can be fatal.

Medical death trap

A study by Dr. Andrew Klein, from Cedars Sinai, and Pier Forni, who founded the John Hopkins Civility Projects, revealed that surgeons who are rude to their operating staff have higher fatality rates than their more courteous counter-parts. Their patients also recover more slowly and are prone to more complications. One of the reasons for this is that operating staff don’t dare correct the surgeons if they feel they’ve gone wrong or are about to make a mistake and they won’t speak up if they have concerns regarding prescribed medication.

According to Dr. Klein, rude doctors are a product of the system. The terse and curt nature of surgeons and senior doctors is passed on to students and interns, who are often bullied mercilessly and who take their cue from their mentors. It leads to a cycle of bullied and bullying in which there is very little room for compassion for fellow hospital staff and even patients (

Medical miracle

A good bedside manner doesn’t exactly lead to medical miracles, and discovering that your doctor has one isn’t exactly a miracle either, but it can speed up recovery rates. Speedy recovery rates mean higher patient turnover, which means that hospitals stand to save (or make) a lot of money.

The Daily Mail cites a US study that showed that patients recover quickly and have fewer complications when doctors and nursing staff are attentive to their needs, listen to them, and ensure that they are comfortable. Apparently, a kind and courteous bedside manner also lowers fatality rates and improves patients’ prognosis.

Hospitals in the US are now offering financial incentives for staff to improve their bedside manners. If hospitals score highly on patient satisfaction they can increase their financial incentives by up to 30% (WSJ Online).

Bedside manner is not set in stone

Doctors who have dodgy a bedside manner can change their ways. But, as with all change, they have to want to. A false cheery bedside manner is almost worse than a bad one. Dedication to change includes the following:

  • Smile. Doctors see dozens of patients every day, but it doesn’t take much effort to smile when someone comes through the door and to extend a hand for a handshake.
  • Hear patients out. Many doctors cutoff patients who come in with long, involved stories about their ailments. Maybe they have the answers immediately but maybe they need to get to the end of the story to fully understand the problem. This falls under the category: don’t make assumptions. But, some patients just really need to talk. They don’t have anyone else who will listen to them and this becomes the doctor’s job. This falls under the category: compassion.
  • Respect. Doctors need to poke and prod to find what’s wrong. But people don’t like to be poked and prodded, especially if they’re being poked and prodded in a state of undress. Doctors should let people keep their clothes on as far as possible and always tell them where they’re going to be poked and why it’s necessary.
  • Body language. Some doctors say one thing while their body says another. They can be making polite queries and friendly small talk but tapping fingers or crossed arms tell the patient that they would really rather be doing something else.

These are just some of the things doctors can do to make their patients feel more at ease and speed up recovery. The bottom line is to remember the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated.