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What Is A Good Bedside Manner? (And Why Is It Important?)

What Is A Good Bedside Manner? (And Why Is It Important?)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

If you’ve spent time in hospital, either as a patient, work experience student or medical student, you’ll likely have come across the term ‘bedside manner.’

Bedside manner refers to the way a healthcare professional interacts with their patients, encompassing communication skills, empathy, and understanding. Good bedside manner establishes trust and fosters strong relationships between medical professionals and their patients.

This quality is so important in medicine because patients are more likely to follow medical advice and adhere to treatment plans when they feel comfortable and understood by their healthcare provider.

In contrast, poor bedside manner can lead to strained relationships and hinder the treatment process.

I think it’s crucial for doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to understand the components of good bedside manner and be aware of potential hurdles in achieving it.

Key Takeaways

  • Bedside manner is an essential aspect of healthcare professionals’ interactions with patients and involves strong communication, empathy, and understanding
  • Trust and rapport between patients and providers is massively impacted by the quality of their bedside manner, influencing treatment adherence and outcomes
  • Identifying signs of poor bedside manner and taking steps to improve one’s approach can lead to better patient satisfaction and healthcare experiences

What Is Bedside Manner?

Bedside manner refers to the way healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses, interact and communicate with their patients.

This includes showing compassion, empathy, and understanding towards the patient’s feelings and condition.

Good bedside manner involves providing emotional support, clear explanations, and respecting the patient’s needs and preferences.

As a patient, you might notice a healthcare professional’s bedside manner through their ability to truly listen to your concerns, answer your questions clearly, and create a comfortable environment during your care.

What Is Good Bedside Manner Pixel Infographic

It’s not limited to interactions at the bedside but extends to any encounters you may have with healthcare providers.

A positive bedside manner plays a huge role in a patient’s healthcare experience.

When you feel understood and respected by your healthcare providers, it helps to build trust and confidence in their abilities.

This, in turn, can lead to better adherence to treatment plans, improved patient satisfaction, and quicker recovery.

Keep in mind that every healthcare professional has a unique approach to bedside manner, and its importance varies from one healthcare setting to another.

Why Is Bedside Manner Important?

I’ve just touched on it above, but in this next section I’m going to explore exactly why bedside manner can be so important.

Patient Trust

One crucial aspect of healthcare is the trust between patients and their medical professionals.

By demonstrating a good bedside manner, you can create a strong foundation for this trust.

When patients feel at ease and respected, they are more likely to share vital information about their health, which fosters greater collaboration in managing care.

If you know the person opposite you is more likely to care about what you have to say, you’re more likely to share sensitive information that could be vital for an accurate diagnosis.

Effective Communication

One of the primary benefits of good bedside manner is enhanced communication.

Taking the time to actively listen to patients’ concerns and questions, and paying attention to non-verbal cues, enables you to better understand their needs and provide tailored care.

Your ability to convey empathy and showcase genuine interest in the well-being of your patients will also help put them at ease.

Remember, clear and compassionate communication is crucial for fostering strong relationships and ensuring patients are well-informed about their care.

Improved Patient Outcomes

Finally, having a good bedside manner has a direct impact on patient outcomes.

As a medical professional, your ability to build trust and maintain effective communication can lead to higher satisfaction rates and treatment adherence amongst your patients.

When patients feel supported and engaged, they are more likely to follow prescribed treatments, which ultimately translates to better health outcomes.

In addition, a positive patient-provider relationship can help assuage any fears or anxiety a patient may have about their treatment or condition, so improving their overall well-being.

Components Of Good Bedside Manner

Having seen the benefits of what a good bedside manner can bring, you might be interested to learn what goes into building one.

Empathy

Empathy is a crucial component of good bedside manner. As a doctor, it’s important to understand and value the feelings of your patients.

To demonstrate empathy, focus on being sensitive to your patients’ emotions and concerns, validating their feelings, and showing genuine care and support.

While nearly every medical professional will be a naturally empathetic person, the pressures of the NHS can sometimes lead to doctors forgetting to show it.

Active Listening

Active listening is a pivotal aspect of good bedside manner.

As a medical professional, taking the time to truly listen to your patients without interruption can significantly enhance trust and communication.

Here are some ways to demonstrate active listening:

  • Maintain eye contact while speaking to the patient.
  • Allow the patient to speak without interrupting them.
  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage discussion.
  • Paraphrase what the patient says and repeat it back to them to ensure understanding.

Respect

Showing respect is indispensable for establishing good bedside manner.

As a physician, treating your patients with dignity, valuing their opinions, and maintaining confidentiality are essential.

Show respect by being inclusive of your patient’s beliefs and values, using appropriate language and titles, and respecting their autonomy in making decisions about their care.

Body Language

Your body language can also dramatically impact your bedside manner.

Using positive and open body language can convey friendliness, care, and professionalism. Some tips for maintaining good body language include:

  • Avoid crossing arms as this can appear defensive or closed off.
  • Maintain an open posture by standing or sitting upright and keeping your hands relaxed.
  • Lean in slightly when speaking to show your interest and attentiveness.
  • Nod and smile to show understanding and encouragement.

By incorporating these essential components of empathy, active listening, respect, and body language, you can significantly improve your bedside manner, enhancing the overall patient experience.

Signs Of Bad Bedside Manner

Recognising the signs of a bad bedside manner can help you identify areas for improvement. In this section, I’ll discuss some of these signs.

Lack of engagement: If you fail to actively listen, ask questions, or maintain eye contact with your patients, they may perceive you as uninterested or uncaring. This may result in the patient withholding information or feeling unheard.

Insincerity: Patients can often detect when their healthcare provider is dishonest or insincere. To build trust, it is important that you genuinely convey your concern and empathy towards your patient’s situation.

Distraction: Constantly looking at your watch, phone, or other distractions during patient interaction sends a message that you may not be fully present or available for their needs. This can influence the patient’s perception of your commitment to their care.

Displaying negative emotions: If you show signs of frustration, impatience, or annoyance, this can reflect poorly on your bedside manner. As a professional, it is important that you manage your emotions and maintain a calm and stable demeanour when interacting with patients.

Poor communication skills: Struggling to effectively communicate with your patient can lead to confusion and misunderstandings. Being unable to explain medical terms or treatment plans in a clear and concise manner may leave the patient feeling lost and overwhelmed.

By being aware of the signs of poor bedside manner, you can work on improving your communication skills and interpersonal relationships with your patients.

Challenges To Bedside Manner

Sometimes, there can be challenges in the working environment that get in the way of healthcare professionals delivering the best care that they can.

High-Stress Environments

For example, working in a high-stress environment can significantly impact the way you interact with patients.

In hospitals and other healthcare settings, you may experience constant pressure to perform at pace, coordinate with other staff and stay up-to-date with new developments.

This stress could impede your ability to establish a good bedside manner, which could make you appear detached, rushed, or even irritated.

It’s crucial to recognise these feelings and manage your stress effectively to provide good patient care- even when you’re just having one of those days.

Difficult Conversations

Discussing sensitive issues with patients is an inevitable part of healthcare.

Some conversations can be emotionally charged, involving the sharing of unpleasant news about a patient’s health or the need to make challenging decisions.

A young woman with her head in her hands after receiving some bad news
Breaking bad news is one of the most difficult things doctors have to do

It’s only natural that these discussions can create a bit of an uneasy environment. Because of this, a knee-jerk reaction can be to rush through these conversations without giving the patient room to breathe.

To maintain a positive bedside manner, it’s important to:

  • Prepare yourself mentally for such calls
  • Be empathetic and compassionate
  • Practice active listening
  • Give patients time to absorb and process the information

Addressing difficult subjects delicately and with sensitivity can greatly enhance your bedside manner and massively solidify patients’ trust in your abilities.

Time Constraints

The modern healthcare system often demands that care providers give the most efficient treatment possible, leading to huge time pressures and rushed consultations.

This can leave patients feeling neglected and misunderstood, leading to negative perceptions of your bedside manner.

In order to best balance the demands of your role and ensure patients feel well cared for, consider the following:

  • Prioritise quality communication, even in short interactions
  • Offer clear explanations for your decisions
  • Engage in active listening and acknowledge the concerns of patients

Time constraints are a challenge in nearly any healthcare setting, but maintaining good bedside manner is essential in providing the best patient experience possible.

Improving Your Bedside Manner

I’m in no way claiming to be a bedside manner expert. However, I have had the privilege of being taught by a lot of doctors who were. Here are some tips I’ve been taught about how to improve your bedside manner:

Observing Others

To improve your bedside manner, start by observing experienced healthcare professionals and how they interact with their patients.

Notice their communication techniques, active listening skills, and empathy. Pay close attention to how they:

  • Make eye contact and use open body language
  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage conversation
  • Show genuine interest in the patient’s concerns and emotions

If you can incorporate these approaches into your own interactions with patients, you’ll be sure to improve.

Reflecting On Your Behaviour

Self-reflection is essential for personal growth and development, especially when it comes to bedside manner.

Periodically take the time to assess your behaviour and interactions with patients:

  • Analyse your communication style, including verbal and nonverbal cues
  • Examine how you handle challenging situations or conversations
  • Consider any feedback from patients, colleagues, or mentors

Use these insights to identify areas where you can improve your bedside manner and develop a plan to address them.

Implementing Active Change

Once you’ve observed others and reflected on your behaviour, actively implement changes to enhance your bedside manner. Here are some strategies:

  • Focus on one element at a time: By just trying to change one element of your technique at a time you can concentrate just on that aspect without being overwhelmed.
  • Get a colleague to observe you: Having a colleague observe you and then provide feedback can be invaluable to getting an outsider’s view on what you say and how you say it.
  • Reflect on how patients react: Your patient is your primary audience. Therefore, reflecting on how they react to you might be your best indicator of how you’ve done.

Improving your bedside manner takes time and dedication. It’s a continual process of sharpening your skills and being open to feedback and learning opportunities.

Final Thoughts

Watching a doctor with an excellent bedside manner is genuinely a pleasure.

The patient feels listened to, valued and supported, regardless of how long the doctor spends with them or what other pressures the doctor may be under.

Having a good bedside manner is something I’m personally, as a junior doctor, always trying to work towards as I know I’m not quite where I want to be yet.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.