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How do you engage with patients with such a limited amount of time? How do you improve bedside manner and offer compelling, empathic care?

It starts by realizing that bedside manner begins and ends with seeing patients for who they truly are: people in need of help.

“We have a responsibility to help create doctors who are not only brilliant diagnosticians and clinicians but are also compassionate, caring and able to easily work with others. No longer is medicine practiced by the Physician in isolation.” Dr. Kevin R. Campell, MD, FACC

With this in mind, here are 5 tips to foster better communication with patients and improve the doctor-patient relationship.

1) Call patients by their names. If you don’t know how to pronounce a name, ask.
As Dale Carnegie wrote, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Using a patient’s name says you see them as an individual, not a statistic. It empowers them to be a part of the conversation about their health.

2) Introduce yourself and explain your role.
Make sure your patients know who you are and why you’re there. A study at University of Chicago showed that when patients know the role of a physician in their care plan, they’re more likely to remember that physician’s name. This same study noted that, “up to 90% of medical inpatients were unable to correctly name their treating physician.” A concerning statistic when we’re striving for increased patient engagement. Make sure you know your patient, and your patient knows you.

3) Try “tell me more” instead of “that’s enough.”
Patients often have a story they are willing to share. It’s not just their health history—it’s their life. However, studies have shown that “physicians stop patients and redirect the conversation after about 20 seconds, while patients need an average of 32 seconds to complete their explanation of concerns.” Listen to what your patients have to say. It can offer insight into what’s really going on and how the patient interprets the situation.

4) Validate patient concerns.
You may not agree with a self-diagnosed patient who thinks they have a rare but WebMD-verified disease. However, their symptoms are real. Taking the time to listen helps establish rapport and let’s your patients know you care. You can correct misinformation without being dismissive.

5) When you need to do more research, say so.
While patients expect a certain level of expertise from their healthcare providers, it’s impossible to know everything. Let your patients know you take the time to find the right answers and the best options. Sometimes that takes a bit of time. You’ll instill confidence in your patients when they know you have their best interests in mind.


1. Campbell, K, ;Promoting the Team Approach in Medical Education: Dealing with the “The Gunners”March ;2013 ; Available from: (Accessed October 2014).

2. Arora V, Gangireddy S, Mehrotra A, Ginde R, Tormey M, Meltzer D: Ability of hospitalized patients to identify their in-hospital physicians. Arch Intern Med 2009;169(2):199-201.

3. Iobst, C, ;Resolve to Improve Your “Bedside Manner” January ;2013 ;Available from: (Accessed October 2014).

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