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The origin of the term “bedside manner” goes all the way back to 1865. It refers to: “the attitude, approach, and deportment of a doctor with patients.” Surely 95 percent of bedside manner is attentive and empathic listening skills, but not every physician is graced with this talent. How can you tell when your doctor is not really hearing what you’re saying?
According to WebMD, research shows that when patients begin to talk, doctors cut them off after about 17 seconds.
Maybe you’re trying to tell your story, but your doctor seems more invested in following a checklist of questions that don’t relate to your situation and only require one-word answers? You get the definite feeling that they are only asking the questions out of habit and feel ignored.
Doctors might have to update your electronic health records on a laptop or tablet while speaking with you, which makes it hard to look you in the eye and hear everything you’re saying. If they are answering text messages on a cell phone during your visit, that takes away personal attention from you.
A typical primary care doctor has about 15 minutes per patient, reports WebMD. Some hospital doctors have only 11 minutes with a patient. The U.S. medical reimbursement system pays doctors for doing procedures, not for explaining or empathizing.
Are they tapping their foot or fingers or shifting in their seat? Signs of impatience are often expressed in restless body language, doodling, or checking a smartphone.
Maybe you come to your appointment with a long list of health complaints and symptoms to discuss but because of limited time, your doctor wants to just focus on one main concern. If you try to discuss other problems, they cut you off.
Many doctors feel constrained by the time and financial aspects of our health care system and are not willing to deal with diagnosing difficult or unclear medical problems. Perhaps after an evaluation, you’re told, “it’s all in your head” when you’re really suffering from a symptom-based illness such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, or irritable bowel syndrome.
Studies show that in over 50 percent of cases, patient complaints don’t have any diagnosable medical cause that can be determined by laboratory testing. Fatigue, pain, dizziness, and insomnia are some of the most common symptoms that present doctors with such challenges.
With less time to listen to patients, sometimes it’s easier for doctors to order blood tests or X-rays. Medical training places more emphasis on technology than on developing the high-touch listening skills that make a compassionate doctor. Physicians are often more fixated on ruling things out than taking the time to learn a patient’s full medical history.
Leana Wen, MD, co-author of “When Doctors Don’t Listen,” suggests that patients ask their doctors: “At this point, what is it that you’re thinking?” If your doctor can’t summarize what you’ve shared and let you know what they suspect might be the cause of your condition, “you know that they haven’t really listened and you should go back to square one.”
If you don’t experience an ongoing, supportive dialogue with your doctor, you may be less interested in self-care and responsible health management. If you don’t feel valued and respected, you’re less likely to stay engaged in your own health efforts. Martine Ehrenclou, author of “The Take-Charge Patient: How You Can Get the Best Medical Care” believes, “Your relationship with your doctor is really the cornerstone of good health care.”
The doctors at Revere Health believe that choosing to listen is the essence of patient-centered care. If you’d like to partner with a doctor who supports and empowers you, Utah’s best health care providers look forward to your visit.
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.