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Bedside Manner Styles

When you talk in that exam room, you can be whoever you want- you can choose your bedside manner style. Many physicians miss this point; something tells them that they have to be their most authentic selves. Maybe it’s the failed actor in me, the writer in me, or just creativity, or maybe I’m just a charlatan, but I’m quite comfortable being what I need to be in that exam room to get the job done.

I have many sides, from bitter and angry to loving and compassionate. Most of the time, loving and compassion are the most effective tools I unleash on my patients, but let’s talk about all the different styles you can use.

Saying No to Antibiotics

Just had a call with a doc who is completely overwhelmed and suffocating under the pressure of telemedicine patients who demand antibiotics. It’s hard, I know. I’m glad to report that it’s not longer something I deal with, though I’ve shared my struggles with it in previous blogs.

When you walk into that room you have the advantage of knowing what the patient is there for. You can walk in and be whoever you want to be. My main advice would be that be whoever you need to be but be authentic.

You know what makes for a great fictional character? It’s that they are completely real and authentic. The writer just added more color to make their realness stand out. Be that.

The Loving Grandmother

You can walk in calmly, slowly, and with a smile on your face. You can call your patients “My love”, “Darling” or whatever makes sense. What a lovely bedside manner to have, no?

Even the gruffest patient will soften up to the grandmother. And it’s not like you’re only a grandma, you are the one who makes the final call of what you can and can’t do for the patient.

Pay attention to the details regarding your patient’s comfort. In a hospital setting, take a moment to straighten their bed or ask if they need more ice. Touching a patient’s head or leg can be construed as condescending, but gently touching their hand or arm is a tiny gesture that can be very impactful and leave a long-lasting impression.

American College of Physicians

The loving grandmother listens, cheers up their patient, supports them, gives them good feedback, asks a few good questions, and send them on their way with reassurance.

The Tough Love Uncle

Got the patient asking for a refill of their pain meds? They need their work note extended? They need yet another referral to yet another specialist for the same complaint?

The tough love uncle will hear the person out but won’t be soft as the grandma. He’ll put his foot down as soon as the patient start demanding a pity party. He is comfortable interrupting the patient if the conversation isn’t going somethwhere fruitful.

The tough uncle, however, is still family – he cares, and he’ll leave you knowing you can always return to him. But he ain’t gonna bail you out just because you chose to do the exact thing he told you not to do. When you see him, you better have done everything he said and brought your results with you.

Patch Adams Pediatrician

You got the mom who can’t keep their toddler from tearing everything off the wall and you got the 7 yo that is from a horror movie. But remember, that visit will end, and you get to go on to the next patient, who will likely be much better.

On that visit, you can be the funny, loving, gentle character of Patch Adams and not let anything the mother says or the child does phase you. You are on a mission to be all love and care. And in the end, your conclusion is that antibiotics would harm your child and you’d never do that to a cute little monster.

Hilarious Emergencist

Be the ED doctor who has a bedside manner with a great sense of humor. Patients often go to the ED trying to laugh things off to cover up their fears. You can laugh with them, share a funny story, or even come up with a few short, clever jokes that might makes patients feel more at ease.

You might say, but Dr. Mo, I’m not a funny person. But that’s exactly the point: be who you want to be. You don’t have to be funny to be considered hilarious. Anyone can have a light sense of humor, and you’ll be perceived as such.

But Don’t Be…

1. Standoffish

Don’t use the clinic or OR as a time and place to argue and create friction. As a doctor, you are the highest on the food chain, and nobody, but you can diffuse a tense situation.

You can, at any time, stop whatever shitty thing you or your patient is doing, call a time out, and start all over with a kind smile and look on your face.

2. Dismissive

Patients believe that their sneezing caused their premature labor or that the cold caused them to catch pneumonia. Your job isn’t to dispel that belief unless that’s what they are there to see you for.

Dismissing anything the patient says will kill any connection you have with them, and it’s all downhill from there. Even if they think that a resection of their RUE would fix their finger pain, it’s your place to listen to them and explain what you can and can’t do.

3. Arrogant

Arrogance is what I got through an IV all 4 years of residency. I had to be the person who knew more than the intern and medical student.

Arrogance is overconfidence, thinking that you know something to be true when it very well might be but, as you’ve undoubtedly learned by now, many times you just end up being totally fucking wrong.

4. Silent

Burnout sucks because you get the quiet, disconnected, silent doctor sitting across from you who could care less if you sue them, complain about them, or if they even died in a car crash on the way home.

I have no cure for that. But if you have it in you to put on any face at all, after letting the patient talk, ask some insightful questions—maybe the questions you would have asked the last time you found yourself sick in a hospital.

5. Impatient

When you’re rushed, everyone knows it. Slowing down is simple, you just have not to give a shit what the next thing is that you have to do. And if you can’t do that then you have to finish what you think you should be doing before doing the next thing.

The patient repeating themselves or explaining a story in 12 different ways is just waiting for you to say something that makes them feel you heard them. Once you do, that’s when that conversation is over, and not until then.

6. Unprofessional

Got a hardon for a certain look? No problem. Wait until you get home and you can masturbate to whatever your mind can think up. The unprofessional is the person who can’t set aside their needs at the expense and suffering of the other person.

Don’t undermine trust because it’s hard to earn it again. Don’t lie to the patient and don’t deceive them, first, because it always backfires, second, because you never who’s recording you, and last, because you’ll cause more harm to yourself than anyone else.

7. Close-Minded

Your patients are engaging in risky behavior outside of your comprehension. They are getting sandwiched and rotisseried; they are skin popping, doing sex tourism, and doing normal things that to you might be as strange as walking outside naked.

Remember, you’re not there to be the moral police. Your morals, in fact, are completely irrelevant to what the patient values. If they aren’t there for you to offer feedback on their felching then perhaps it’s best to focus on what you know best.

And when the patient is end-stage frustrated with their condition, don’t just focus on what your job is as an Allergist. Instead, reach down a little and help the patient come up with a few more creative next steps.

8. Rigid

The ridid doctor does things one way and that’s the only way. That’s perfectly fine when it comes to your personal and professional boundaries, one should have healthy boundaries.

But the best boundaries and the most effective are those that are flexible, movable, and adjustable to the person that’s sitting in front of you.

“I never give out my cell phone to patients” is pretty fucking stupid when the last patient of the day might end up at the ER at night without getting their critical medication and may not go to the ER. Would you rather wield their phone call so that you can at least convince them to go to the ED or call the med into another pharmacy?

9. Dishonest

Honesty is being fair and straightforward. An honest person is easy to recognize from a mile away. This is the only thing that’s often valued.

Truthfulness has little social value. The truth can sometimes be hurtful and lose your patient’s trust.

It’s like being frugal and being cheap.

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