A physician must absorb a tremendous amount of knowledge before he or she is prepared to treat patients.
But computers and robots are capable of absorbing far greater quantities of information. So why is no one calling for doctors to be replaced by computers or robots?
The answer is that medical patients are looking for warmth, support and understanding in addition to expert medical knowledge. These are things that human beings can provide but machines cannot.
It is a part of your responsibility as a physician to cultivate a compassionate and comforting bedside manner, and here are 10 recommendations that can help you improve your performance in this vitally important area:
#1 Focus exclusively on your patient
Doctors are like jugglers trying to keep a dozen balls in the air at the same time. But no matter how busy or pressed for time you are you should never allow yourself to become distracted by other matters when you are with a patient.
#2 Observe the non-verbal elements of every encounter
Listen to the tone of your patient’s voice and watch his or her body language closely. This will tell you a lot about what your patient is really thinking and feeling, making it easier for you to respond in the appropriate manner.
#3 Work hard to make a good subliminal impression
By this we mean pay attention to your own body language, facial expressions and vocal tones. Your patient should see you as authoritative yet receptive, businesslike yet compassionate.
#4 Make your patient feel safe and comfortable.
If the medical problem is of a highly personal nature, let your patient know you would be willing to move to a more private space to discuss it.
#5 Adopt an open style of questioning
Draw your patients out and get them to go into detail about their problem and the symptoms they’ve been experiencing. You’ll gain more insight while validating their desire to be listened to and taken seriously.
#6 Listen closely
Make absolutely sure you understand the nature of your patient’s symptoms. If anything seems ambiguous or unclear ask questions and pay close attention to the answers. If your patient thinks you haven’t been listening he or she will see it as a sign of indifference and disrespect.
#7 Don’t judge
You are a professional and you can’t do your job properly unless you remain detached. Be honest with yourself and hold yourself accountable if and when you come up short in this area.
#8 Choose your words carefully
You must never forget your patients are apprehensive and in an emotionally fragile state. So always try to stay positive, upbeat, hopeful and encouraging, but without being trite, condescending or patronizing.
#9 Be reassuring
Let your patients know exactly what they have to do to get better and explain to them the role you will play in the healing process. Always emphasize healing over illness or injury, it will help your patient stay optimistic and relaxed.
#10 Stay in control but remain warm and polite
If your bedside manner is good your patients may be so comforted by your presence they won’t want to let you go. Be as polite as you can when you have to end an appointment and let your patients know you will always be available if and when they need to visit you again.
Making it Second Nature
At times it may be difficult to put your best foot forward in your interactions with your patients. After all you are a human being who has bad days just like everyone else.
But never forget that practice makes perfect. The more diligent you are about cultivating a warm and caring persona the easier it will be to maintain it in every circumstance.
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