I’m sitting down for my yearly physical with the blood pressure machine in view. From the displeased expression on the nurse’s face, I gather it wasn’t a perfect reading. Instead of jotting the numbers down in her notes, realizing that I’m probably just nervous (because I do have “white coat syndrome”), she sighs and expresses the urgency to take my blood pressure again and again, until she’s satisfied with the result.
Then, I walk into the lab next door for a blood test and the line I hear is: “Oh, your blood pressure was high, let me see if I can draw your blood now.”
Wait, what? Do they actually think that these comments will make me feel more relaxed?
I’ve also experienced more direct unpleasantries from doctors who project an icy, or even a rude demeanor. A poor bedside manner does affect a patient’s emotional disposition; it does heighten any anxiety, and it certainly ensures difficulty in forming a positive bond with a professional who’s in a field that’s supposed to alleviate illness.
“A bedside manner refers most often to the way a medical professional interacts and communicates with patients,” a 2012 post on Wisegeek stated. The post stresses that a doctor with a good bedside manner demonstrates empathy,1 and emits an aura of ease for the patients, while also involving them in health decisions. On the flip side, poor bedside manners reflect rudeness, cold attitudes, inadequate listening skills, and a complete disregard for the patient’s fears.
Why are such mannerisms prominent in the medical field?
Lorianna De Giorgio’s 2012 article in the Toronto Star discusses why positive relationships between patients and doctors may be lacking in the profession.
Adam Waytz, assistant professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University, explained that a process of “dehumanization” lies behind an unfortunate patient-doctor rapport. Dehumanization may occur due to psychological demands placed on practitioners, and from ongoing advances in technology as well. Waytz determined that a bulk of medical decision-making gives way to a very mechanical method of thinking; problems are often solved and issues are fixed without recognizing the patient’s feelings.
While many individuals enter the medical field for humane reasons, “they get into the system, and the system is so stressful that sometimes the humanity is just beaten out of them,” notes Marjorie Stanzler, senior director of programs at the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare.
Waytz and Stanzler advocate that a proper bedside manner would result in improved psychological and physical outcomes for the patients in treatment.
A 2008 blog post entitled What Bad Bedside Manners Really Mean reviews the negative impact and consequences of these adverse behaviors:
“Doctors are supposed to be in the line of work of helping people. With this profession comes a lot of responsibility. The medical field is not supposed to be simply diagnosing a problem, handing out a few pills, and moving onto the next patient. It means much more. It means being a physician, and a physician means being a healer.”
I could not agree more. Patients may feel naturally anxious, waiting on an impending prognosis (especially if the condition has the potential to be serious). Do they really need aloofness on top of that?
“If the doctor seems disinterested in what you are telling him, there are greater chances of him missing something that you said,” the post stated. “If he seems put-out or preoccupied, the patient might be more likely to leave out pertinent information.” Furthermore, if the doctor is disrespectful, it may discourage patients from seeking medical assistance altogether.
Due to a distressing environment and technological developments, I can understand why medical practitioners may harbor some poor bedside manners, but that doesn’t make their etiquette right or beneficial.
I think it’s important for them to remember why they’ve entered the field in the first place; if it’s because they sincerely want to help people, it’s crucial to know how to relate to patients on an emotional level.
- l personally think medical schools should have official courses on being more empathetic [↩]