Increasingly, patients are complaining about physicians with poor bedside manners.  This leads to an erosion of trust – the foundation of establishing and maintaining a positive doctor/patient relationship.

We all recognize this type of physician – they always seem rushed, don’t provide a proper greeting, may not know our name, interrupt us every 18 seconds, hardly listen and talk-down to us on the rare occasions they aren’t focused on their EHR. 

These doctors, like others, may be great clinicians but that is only one key to being a great physician.  The other key, is having an equally great bedside manner, also known as “clinical empathy”.

Clinical empathy simply means being able to understand a patients circumstances and demonstrating a sincere interest in helping them.  In other words, standing in their shoes.  Would your patients rate clinical empathy as highly as your clinical acumen?

Ask yourself, when a patient comes in for an office visit, whose agenda is it – yours or theirs?

Ask yourself, when a patient comes in for an office visit, whose agenda is it – yours or theirs?  Are you in the moment with them, actively listening to their issues and concerns or; are you distracted by your tablet, running behind, callbacks, etc.?

Why is clinical empathy important?  Although the reasons are many, there is proof that a solid relationship between a doctor and a patient has a direct impact on patient outcomes such as asthma, obesity, diabetes, pulmonary infections, hypertension and even osteoarthritis pain.

Additionally, when a doctor takes the time to actively listen to a patient’s concerns, the patient will feel more comfortable sharing sensitive personal information they wouldn’t normally share with a doctor who they don’t feel a connection with (in other words, don’t completely trust).  The patient will also be more willing to ask tough questions.  Ultimately, this all leads to a productive dialogue between the patient and the doctor.

Although practicing clinical empathy is the cornerstone for having a great bedside manner, there are other things every physician should do to enhance their patient relationships, including:

  1. Before entering the room, ask yourself “What does the patient need and how can I help them?”
  2. Make eye contact when you enter the room and welcome the patient by name
  3. Be present – their office visit should be their agenda, not yours
  4. Take a seat and listen to their questions and concerns
  5. Ask open-ended questions
  6. Be mindful of body language – yours and theirs
  7. Explain things in a way they will understand
  8. Ask if they understand
  9. Demonstrate compassionate care
  10. Provide reassurance

If you think you don’t have the time for these actions, think again!  Providing clinical empathy has proven to be a time saver by; more quickly identifying underlying causes, reducing follow up visits and avoiding those last minute questions or lists as you’re heading out the door.


Now, isn’t it time you stand in the shoes of all of your patients and be the great physician you are?

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