With the evolution of medicine and the overwhelming pressure for physicians to increase their speed, time, and profits, the patient seems to have become an afterthought for those making these changes. In my opinion, the biggest unintentional change has been the decline in our bedside manner. Blame it on the demands, or blame it on burnout, it doesn’t really matter. Patients are feeling it.
Did you know:
- Bedside manner affects patient health
- Patients associate bedside manner with a doctor’s skill
- Bedside manner is a predictor of patient complaints
- Bedside manner has been shown to be a predictor of malpractice.
All of this considered, we should be paying more attention to this, so here are a few things I try to remind myself of in the Emergency Room.
Technology is not a substitute for personal attention.
Over the last several years, the administrative aspect of our profession has been inundated with technology. Whether the intent was to streamline processes, save time and money, or provide better records, it also has resulted in the decline of a personal patient visit. Not so many years ago, doctors sat with patients, making eye contact, listening and making notes in the chart or maybe even a quick dictation for the patient record. Now, our eye contact has shifted from the patient to the technology at hand, whether an iPad or computer, and the patient feels that. Since we can’t remove technology, remember to intently listen to and focus on the patient.
Communicate simply and honestly.
What is it they say? Communication is key? This is never truer than during a patient visit. Patients are there as much to learn as they are to be treated. Take the time to explain the procedures and diagnosis and the treatment in terms that they can understand. Sure, if you want to tell a patient their recurring headaches are a result of Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia then, by all means, go ahead. Just make sure to follow it up by explaining that is a fancy term for brain freeze.
And of course, it goes without saying: when delivering the diagnosis and all the accompanying information, be sure to, in fact, relay all the accompanying information. If you don’t tell them, Google will.
Remember that this particular exam/event/visit is the most important thing to your patient.
Remember when you started medical school? The magnitude of the responsibility for your patients? The intense focus you had when analyzing symptoms? The pride you felt in discovering that elusive diagnosis? Or removing the stitches you so carefully placed so as not to leave a glaring scar? The care you took in following up and making sure that your patient was being treated with the attention they deserved?
Now, fast forward to present day. It’s 10 a.m., and you just diagnosed your fifth case of strep today, and there is a waiting room full of patients waiting to see if they’ll be the next lucky winner of that diagnosis. In fact, you can probably narrow down the likely additional cases with a quick glimpse across the room. In that moment, do you still feel that same sense of awe that you felt in those years? Probably not. But it’s not because you don’t care. It’s because this is your work, what you do day in and day out, and the reality is that what once was a new and exciting experience is now just your average day. (I imagine it is this way for many professions, just with different circumstances.) It’s important to remember while these scenarios have become an average day for us, it is not an average day for the patient. This exam/event/visit is their primary focus and for many, may be a life-changing moment. When you think about it this way, it’s easy to adjust your perspective.
Overall, bedside manner is a skill that immensely affects the patient experience, and consequently, our experience. Mostly, though, it’s just the decent way to practice. We should make sure we hone this skill in the same way we hone all other professional skills to make sure we deliver what our patients need.