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Doctors’ Bedside Manner Affects Patients’ Health

Update Date: Apr 11, 2014 10:54 AM EDT

How doctors treat their patients can greatly affect the kind of care patients receive. Some studies have found that patients do not respond well to doctors who are not compassionate. In a new study that reviewed previous clinical trials, researchers found that a doctor's bedside manner can greatly affect patients' health.

"It's important to be able to demonstrate that clinicians can learn to change how they interact with patients, and that it affects health outcomes," Alan Christensen, a professor of psychology at the University of Iowa who was not involved with this research, said.

For this study, the research team analyzed 13 clinical trials that examined the effects of doctors' people skills on their patients' ability to lose weight, lower their blood pressure or manage pain. The researchers found that good bedside manner helped encourage patients to complete these health goals. However, not all patients experienced improvements. Christensen added that even though the effects found in these studies were small, they were still "impressive."

"I think that intuitively, people think that if you have an open, caring relationship with your provider, that's beneficial," senior researcher of the study, Dr. Helen Ries, who directs the empathy and relational science program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said according to Medical Xpress.

The trials that Ries and her team studied came from around the world. Each one involved doctors that were instructed to either give medical care normally or give medical care supplemented with patient interaction training. Training involved teaching doctors how to use warmth and empathy. One particular method included motivational interviewing. Since people will inevitably respond differently, the researchers stressed the importance of having an open and honest conversation with one's doctor.

"If you're unhappy, there are polite ways to speak up," Ries said. "Patients should feel empowered to say, 'I didn't understand that language you used. Can you explain it in laymen's terms?' You can tell (your doctor) if you feel rushed or anxious."

The study was published in PLOS ONE.

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