Bedside manner is a broad phrase used to describe a health care professional’s attitude towards a patient. At its core, it describes the doctor- or nurse-patient relationship, but the right approach to care goes much deeper than that. According to the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, bedside manner is one of the most crucial parts of a patient’s recovery, as it helps build trust in the patient and leads to better care after the patient has left the hospital. In other words, universities are now emphasizing good bedside manner right alongside teaching CPR and how to use stethoscopes.

They’re Making Empathy a Priority

Today’s medical and nursing students are taught to put themselves in the patient’s shoes. As easy as it is for a health care professional to write off a patient’s concerns as routine, caretakers must remember that for many people, being in the hospital is one of the most stressful times of their lives. Why? Because being empathetic and courteous helps gain a patient’s trust and boosts their confidence, which can equal greater levels of success after discharge.

Med schools throughout the country have struggled with finding unique ways to help students understand the importance of empathetic medical care. But some have found success. At Virginia Commonwealth University, faculty members developed a unique program to help students delve into their ability to empathize: a collaboration between the school’s theater department and medical school. Internal Medicine students get a theater-based approach to learning empathy.

According to the pioneers of the program, the approach helps counter-balance the science-focused curriculum on medical school.

“Essentially, medical schools have crammed so much into four years of study that science has squeezed out the humanistic aspects of medicine. In theatre, we teach how to be authentically present in inauthentic moments. We thought we would see if we could take some of those skills and teach them to physicians,” said the vice chair of the school’s theater department, Aaron Anderson.

They’re Emphasizing Communication Skills

Communication is key to helping build a solid doctor-patient relationship. But you don’t only communicate with patients by the words you choose. You also communicate through what you wear. For example, you might choose to wear cute scrubs and accessories to convey a bright, cheerful disposition. The David Geffen School of Medicine recommends the following tips for good communication with patients:

  • Use words that patients can understand, not medical jargon.
  • Make eye contact with a patient while talking to them.
  • Eliminate body language that demonstrates haste or dishonesty.
  • Always introduce yourself every time you enter the room.

Good communication skills are achieved not only through what you do at the bedside, but also what you don’t do. A paper published by the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) links multitasking with poor bedside manner, suggesting that older medical professionals were taught to separate technical expertise from compassion. The paper highlights the significance of separating these two equally important care components in order to enhance bedside manner.

They’re Giving Students Real-Life Experience

There’s a reason why a big part of medical training is the residency or clinical hours. Health care professionals simply won’t understand the value of good bedside manner until they’re exposed to fieldwork, but many medical students don’t see a single patient until their third year. Real-life experience doesn’t have to come from traditional channels like residencies and internships. Some health care professors are working bedside manner training into students’ curriculum through volunteering and mentorship.

Second-year medical students at Florida International University in Miami are encouraged to go out into the community and help local families in order to help them interact with real patients sooner. Bedside manner curriculum is now starting to focus more and more on other channels to introduce students to real-life scenarios earlier. For example, students at URMC are trained in “mindfulness” — the center’s answer to the multitasking debate — through good mentoring.

They’re Teaching Continued Learning

So how do medical professionals address the issue of those well-established nurses and physicians who didn’t get their degree at a time when bedside manner was so strongly emphasized? It all comes down to continued learning. Like they do with medical advancements, clinicians must stay abreast of new approaches to bedside manner. Re-training established physicians to be more empathetic, caring and kind is possible, according to a study conducted by the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

The study sought to determine whether medical professionals who have been working in the field for years could be re-inspired to be more humanistic. In other words, it wanted to figure out whether you could teach old dogs new tricks, or re-teach them the ones they forgot. The results were promising: after 18 months of twice-monthly meetings on compassion, empathy, and other bedside manner skills, all the established physicians outscored their controls.

They’re Teaching Humor

Patch Adams may have been onto something. They say that humor is the best medicine, but is that actually true? When it comes to improving the patient-caretaker relationship, absolutely. Medical schools across the globe are gravitating towards new humor-focused approaches to bedside manner.

Students at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine are taught ways to implement humor into their practice by taking improvisation theater classes to help them learn how to convey humor in a way that’s appropriate at the bedside.

They’re Using Technology and ‘Webside Manner’

When we think of bedside manner, we often think of a more holistic and polite approach — face-to-face time, minimal medical jargon, empathetic conversation, and no smartphones — but there are some situations where bedside manner can be improved through technology. For example, students may be encouraged to enter an interaction with a patient armed with a tablet that allows them to record or notate conversations, which will help them produce more humanistic, personalized care on the next visit.

And as most medical and nursing students know, more and more health care providers are offering “virtual visits,” where patients can message or video chat with their clinician so they don’t have to come into the office. These new technologies have sparked a whole new debate on bedside manner, dubbed “webside manner” in these scenarios. Can you practice good bedside manners over an app? Yes, according to the experts, and it should be covered alongside traditional bedside manner techniques in medical and nursing schools.

Deborah Swanson

Deborah Swanson is a medical office professional with two decades of experience helping small practices and large hospitals alike improve efficiencies. She recently started consulting with allheart.com providing insight into the daily activities of medical professionals and how best to serve them.

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