Is a Nice Physician a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

Smiling PhysicianDr. Lisa Rosenbaum’s recent article discussed how there is a growing trend for medical schools to value communications and interpersonal skills and how she’s not so sure this is a good trend –she’s afraid a certain kind of doctor will be lost. I think she got it wrong. It seems crazy to me to have nostalgia for the type of physician who is at best stand-offish or at worst insensitive or rude.

First, I don’t think anyone (or a medical school) would argue for interpersonal skills at the expense of clinical skills and knowledge. And, with medical schools constantly revising their curricula, it makes sense to me that communication skills/bedside manner/interpersonal skills are now taught. We are in the era of the patient as “customer” and the medical profession is now viewed as needing to be customer service oriented. What’s wrong with that? How can kindness and sensitivity be faulted? Also, while it is obvious that clinical skills should be taught in medical school, I think many humanistic skills also need to be taught –I don’t think it’s always obvious how to do something like break bad news or give someone a terminal diagnosis well. There is definitely an art to it and real skills that can be taught regarding it. (That’s a future post.)

Finally, it is my understanding that communication errors and communication breakdown commonly are considered the “cause” of a med mal lawsuit. In addition, we know that high patient satisfaction results in a lower chance of being sued for medical malpractice and having to use your med mal coverage. Therefore, we can’t help but think that good physician bedside manner and patient satisfaction are related –and a win-win for both the patient and physician.

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