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Chiropractic Research Review

Confidence, Empathy, Other Behaviors Make for the Ideal Physician

In 2001, the Institute of Medicine released a report entitled Crossing the Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century. The report identified six aims designed to improve the quality of health care.

Listed in those aims was the recommendation that health care include a patient-centered approach, which combines education, open communication and an increased role in patient decision-making to ensure that optimal care is delivered in accordance with the patients wishes. A recent study has found a series of behaviors that patients associate with what they consider an "ideal" physician, which could play a key role in fostering strong relationships between patients and health care providers.

In the study, researchers conducted telephone interviews with 192 patients seen in 14 medical specialties of Mayo Clinic centers in Rochester, Minn. And Scottsdale, Ariz. Patients were asked to describe their best and worst experiences with a physician in the Mayo Clinic system, and to give specific information about the encounter.

From the interview transcripts, the authors identified seven behaviors associated with the patients' image of the "ideal" physician: confident, empathetic, forthright, humane, personal, respectful, and thorough. Of the seven behavior traits, "thorough" was cited most often by patients. Conversely, patients who described a "worst physician" experience focused on seven traits that reflected the opposite: callous, cold, disrespectful, hurried, misleading, timid, and uncaring.

The researchers reported that their finding "does not suggest that technical skills are less important than personal skills, but it does suggest that the former are more difficult for patients to judge." Because the quality of a patient's relationship with their doctor could affect not only the patient's emotional responses to the doctor, but also issues such as compliance with a treatment regimen or recovery from an injury or procedure, the authors suggested that training new and currently practicing doctors about the importance of interpersonal skills could have far-reaching effects for patients.

Bendapudi NM, Berry L, Frey KA, et al. Patients' perspectives on ideal physician behaviors. Mayo Clinic Proceedings March 2006;81(3):338-344.

Chiropractic Research Review

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