Which factors have the greatest impact on patient outcomes? If you’re like most physicians, you’d probably answer this question by listing things like care team efficiency, access to advanced technology and equipment and a physician’s experience and education.
But there’s one more important element you may have overlooked: a doctor’s personality.
As it turns out, your bedside manner and ability to connect with patients may have a more significant impact on health care outcomes than you might assume.
Here’s some background about why friendly, empathetic doctors perform better and a few tips on how you can improve your outcomes by showing greater empathy.
Why “Nicer” Doctors Can Achieve Better Treatment Outcomes
Consider this example: In a 2017 study, patients received a histamine skin prick and met with two different types of providers. The first group met a provider who was warm, conversational and confident while the second group met a provider who was cold and distracted. Both groups were prescribed a placebo cream and told it was an antihistamine cream. The result? The group who met with the nicer doctor experienced a reduction in their allergic reaction while the group who met with the unfriendly doctor experienced no change.
Although your experience, technology and team processes all weigh heavily on the success of a care plan, it's a proven fact that being nice can increase your chances of achieving more positive results. Here are three reasons why niceness drives better outcomes:
- It eases patient anxiety: For many patients, a visit to a doctor’s office or hospital triggers feelings of stress, anxiety and even dread. This is especially true if patients are concerned about getting bad news. When a doctor has a warm, reassuring bedside manner and participates in conversation with a patient before and during exams and procedures, it helps put patients at ease and supports greater efficiency.
- It increases patient trust: When a doctor exercises active listening by making frequent eye contact and using affirmatives rather than multitasking during a patient’s visit, patients are more confident in the physician’s level of expertise. The more a patient trusts their doctor, the more likely they are to believe their diagnosis and recommendations, according to U.S. News and World Report.
- It helps patients stick to their goals: When doctors display not only a high level of competence but also a genuine interest in a patients’ wellbeing, patients are more likely to adhere to their care plan. As a nephrologist, you likely experience this when providing recommendations for diet and lifestyle changes. When patients truly believe you’ve customized a plan to improve their health outcomes, they’re often more committed to their plan. But doctors who are cold and distant throughout the visit generally have less compliant patients.
How to Improve Your Bedside Manner
Most medical school students learn how to display empathy as part of their patient relations training. But over time, as you become busier and more focused on efficiency, it can be more difficult to recall your empathy training.
Luckily, this is something you can rebuild. Here’s how:
- Practice active listening: Offering a smile, eye contact and addressing patients by their name can go a long way toward building better doctor-patient relationships. While you may not always have time for lengthy conversations, simple acknowledgments can prove to a patient that you care.
- Ask for feedback: Unsure how patients perceive your personality? Ask a colleague to observe your interactions and provide their input. This can help you identify specific behaviors to change.
- Take an acting class: This isn’t the most obvious choice for a doctor hoping to display greater empathy, but an acting course can help you learn to display and communicate emotions. This is especially helpful for days when, while you care deeply about your patients, mustering the energy for a friendly conversation feels nearly impossible.
Many healthcare professionals assume applying their education, experience and using the right equipment and procedures is all it takes to achieve positive results for their patients. However, personality makes a significant impact, too. By striving to display empathy and form better relationships with your patients, you can help increase the likelihood of more positive outcomes.