Compassion in Care: Improving Bedside Manner

Bedside manner seems to come naturally to some, but many of us have known doctors who make us feel like they don't care.

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

Heather Walker runs a program aimed at teaching medical students better bedside manner.

Walker says, "Are they compassionate? Are they, you know, looking at patient satisfaction?"

Medical Student Amanuael Yohannes says, "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."

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

Actress Michelle Richmond says, "You're not going to come back to somebody if they're rude, or if they're unfeeling, or uncaring or treating you, hum not like a human being."

Research shows patients who feel their doctor has a good bedside manner are more compliant with their treatment regimen and are less likey 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.

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

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.

HIPPOCRATIC THOUGHT ON BEDSIDE MANNER: Physicians' manners, dress, bearing, deportment, and conduct were vital and necessary elements of patient care, a tradition that extended from the earliest shamans to the emergence of scientific medicine. The Hippocratic corpus has many references to appropriate conduct and medical etiquette, with several devoted just to physician behavior. The importance of bedside manners was taught by medical scholars for 1500 years, from Hippocrates and Galen to Avicenna and the early Christian monks who began hospital care in the Middle Ages. (SOURCE:

THE DOCTOR'S ROLE: The practice of medicine changes with time as we develop better techniques for diagnosis and improved therapies for treatment. The art of medicine remains constant over the millennia because human nature is unchanging. Patients bring fear, anxiety, and self-pity into the exam room. It has always been the doctor's responsibility to calm their fears and provide hope. The accomplished doctor has a bedside manner that is humane and compassionate, empathetic and supportive. (SOURCE:

WHY DOCTORS GET SUED: When patients are asked to describe why they like their doctor, it is common to hear the response, "He or she has a good bedside manner." Research shows that risk of doctors being sued by their patients for medical malpractice has little to do with how many mistakes they make. Despite protests from doctors that malpractice lawsuits are born of greedy patients and their even greedier lawyers, analyses of malpractice suits actually show that highly skilled doctors can get sued a lot, while other doctors who make lots of mistakes never do. (SOURCE:;

WHAT PATIENTS WANT FROM THEIR DOCTOR: Attitude, listening skills, persuasion abilities and a pleasing demeanor have all become key differentiators in the quality of service of hospitals everywhere in the world. Being a good healthcare professional is not just about being brilliant, patients need and expect more than just their doctor's expertise in their area of work. Patients want their doctors to show compassion and communicate. Patients want their doctors to:

 Be a good listener, patients may need to be encouraged to express their concerns and anxieties.
 Be non-judgmental; avoid stereotyping patients on appearance or cultural or social background.
 Provide information in a language that is easily understood by the patient and avoid medical jargon that may be confusing. Listen to what you are saying.
 Approach all patients in a caring and considerate manner.
 Remember, patients have busy lives, be mindful of waiting times.

For More Information, Contact:

Carmelle Malkovich
Senior Public Relations Specialist
St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center

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