The idea of a doctor’s bedside manner is, in the modern medical world, becoming something of an anachronism, in that very few GPs ever see the inside of a patient’s home let alone settle down comfortingly on the coverlet.
But the concept – the way a doctor treats people who are ill, especially showing kind, friendly and understanding behaviour – is as relevant today as it was for Dr Cameron in Dr Finlay’s Casebook (a reference that perhaps only older readers of this article will appreciate).
Medical manner remains important for the fundamental reason that the way a doctor interacts with a patient can make or break a consultation. Trust engenders confidence, confidence leads to openness and openness is more likely to result in an accurate diagnosis.
In her former practice, Dr Sheila O’Neill of Glasgow Medical Rooms was a lead medical trainer, intimately involved in the teaching side of the profession and helping students to become the next generation of dedicated doctors.
A significant part of that training concentrated on consultation style and skill and trainee doctors were videoed to help them hone their techniques and avoid unproductive – even if unintended – mistakes.
Dr O’Neill points out that most complaints made about dealings with doctors – both GPs and in the hospital environment – have their roots in poor communication skills, often on both sides of the desk.
What can doctors do to polish their bedside manner? Dr O’Neill suggests these dos and don’ts.
- Make sure that the consultation is patient-centred;
- Encourage patients to speak, and ensure there is time for them to do so;
- Be empathetic. This means listening carefully;
- Show that you are not prejudiced in any way;
- Make it clear that you are not judgemental;
- Give and receive feedback;
- Encourage the patient to participate in the decision-making process.
- Make the consultation doctor-centred;
- Fall into the trap of non-verbal rudeness, such as inattention;
- Don’t be focused on the computer to the exclusion of the patient.
Good bedside manners may sound like a rather quaint notion in the fast-moving and technologically sophisticated world of modern medicine but for professionals they are still very much an essential part of the duty of care.