Guidelines for Effective Patient - Physician Interactions

by Afreen Papa and Nirja Shah


Being a good doctor requires more than just treating a patient's disease or their condition; it requires making the patient feel comfortable as a whole. As new treatments and diagnostic tests are being developed, the practice of medicine is evolving over time. However, the art of medicine and human nature remains unchanged.

As per senior doctors, basic bedside manners are slowly disappearing due to technologically advanced medicine. Patients come into the doctor's office with fear, anxiety, and frustration due to the pain they are having. It becomes the physician's responsibility to try to find the best solution to alleviate the patient's symptoms. Physicians who have been working for many years might disregard basic etiquette in making patients feel more relaxed and comfortable. The ABCDE acronym helps explain the basic skills which should be implemented by doctors.

A - Attentiveness
B - Being compassionate
C - Communication skills
D - Dependability and support
E - Empathy

Practice of these basic skills can improve the quality of care and the patient-physician relationship. Being a physician comes with many responsibilities. One of them is being able to communicate with the patient and their loved ones, as well as professional colleagues. Upon entering the examination room, it is important to ask the patient's name, how they are feeling at the time of visit, their occupation, and the reason for their visit. Asking open-ended questions gives the patient the opportunity to explain the signs and symptoms they have and doesn't constrict them to a certain area of their disease. Allowing them to explain what they are experiencing and truly listening to what they say is the key to effective medical history-taking.

When a physician is attentive, it can make the patient feel that they are receiving validation and respect which makes them more likely to share their symptoms and feelings. Attentiveness can also help in picking up body cues, which can be helpful in understanding the patient's physical dilemma and psychological mindset.

Compassion toward the patient is one of the most important roles that the doctor has. The simple act of sitting with a patient and listening to their concerns makes them feel that their pain and feelings are being acknowledged. Keeping them and their family informed and involved in the decision-making process makes them feel they have self-governance and autonomy with regard to their care. The patient must be able to rely on their physician, trust them with their care and with their personal information.

At times, doctors are caring for patients suffering from terminal illnesses such as cancer, advanced heart disease, etc. Though their conditions may be incurable, empathizing with them, their pain, their feelings, and making them as comfortable as possible is crucial to optimal patient care as a physician.

The role of a physician is being there every step of the process as a pillar of knowledge and support. Basic etiquette is essential to the success of any physician-patient relationship.