5 Tips for Better Bedside Manner by Doctors

By: Dinethra Menon – MedicalSearch Writer
03 June, 2015

As a doctor, your bedside manner can determine a patient's clinical experience either positively or negatively.

Words and actions can impact on medico-legal complaints, effective communication and the long term doctor-patient relationship.

Consider these top tips to improve your bedside manner.

Respect your patients' time

A doctor's appointment may be associated with lengthy wait times. While sometimes unavoidable, acknowledgement of the wait at the beginning of the appointment shows respect for your patients.

During the appointment, time spent with your patients can assist to build rapport. Studies have found longer patient visits can allow more attention to patient education and participation. Give yourself time to observe non-verbal communication. You may need to avoid taking personal calls during patient consultations, so switch off any electronic devices.

Use open questions

Focus on asking your patients open questions such as, "What brings you here?" Open questions can assist doctors to listen and hear a patient's story. Listening to patients puts them at ease and shows you care. Open questions can be helpful for a positive therapeutic relationship and may improve patient compliance.

Read more from the NHMRC advice for medical practitioners 'Communicating with Patients'

Practise empathy

Discussion of distressing medicine relies on a positive doctor-patient understanding, and observing emotional cues can strengthen the relationship. Patients are more likely to trust and follow directions from a doctor who practises empathy. A study of doctors with high empathy found these doctors were more likely to have better control of their patients' clinical outcomes.

Doctors may need to be mindful they are aiming for empathy not sympathy.

Maintaining privacy

A good bedside manner reassures patients to feel comfortable sharing personal information in a non-judgmental environment. Doctors have a legal obligation to protect patient privacy during appointments, which can include ensuring patients have physical privacy or non-disclosure of information to third parties.

Read more information on Health Information and the Privacy Act 1988

Posture and presentation

First impressions can create lasting impressions. Studies have shown people base their opinion about you within two seconds of meeting. Clothing, posture and body language can all play a vital role in your effective bedside manner. Present yourself in clean, professional attire. Consider standing with arms open, appearing engaged, and avoid eating or drinking in front of your patients.