Compassion in healthcare: Improving bedside manner in doctors

May 29, 2013

New research is making a case for compassion and getting hospitals involved in teaching critical skills to new physicians.

Dr. Gregory House, from the television drama "House," is known for his bad bedside manner. Now there's a push to make sure new doctors don't inherit House's habits.

Heather Walker runs a program in which actors portray patients and the med students treat them. The simulation is aimed at teaching medical students better bedside manner.

Third year medical student Amanuel Yohannes at Creighton University told Ivanhoe what he has learned from the program.

"Communication is important because you have to have the patient build trust in you and have them be comfortable enough to sometimes share really personal things that you as a physician need to know in order to help them," said Yohannes.

Students are graded on their interaction by faculty and the patient-actor.

"You're not going to come back to somebody if they're unfeeling, rude or uncaring or treating you not like a human being," said actress Michele Richmond.

Research shows patients who feel their doctor has a good bedside manner are more compliant with their treatment regimen and are less likely to experience complications. A recent study from Michigan State University shows trust and empathy associated with a positive physician-patient encounter actually changes the brain's response to stress and increases pain tolerance.

"It's not just trying to figure out what's going on with the patient, but they also have to feel. They have to have empathy for the patient," Walker said.

Good bedside manner could also help doctors avoid malpractice lawsuits. Studies show patients are less likely to sue doctors they feel care about them, even if they made a medical mistake.

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