Patients list 7 key traits of good doctors

Being thorough was the ideal physician characteristic mentioned most often.

By — Posted April 3, 2006

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When it comes to bedside manner, physicians should possess seven ideal behaviors. Based on what patients told researchers, the doctor should be confident, empathetic, humane, personal, forthright, respectful and thorough.

"There are many doctors who exemplify all seven of the traits. In fact, a doctor who doesn't have all seven of the traits is likely to fall short in the patient's assessment," said Leonard Berry, PhD, who co-authored the study, "Patients' Perspectives on Ideal Physician Behaviors," which appeared in the March Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Researchers in 2001 and 2002 interviewed 192 patients treated by doctors in 14 different specialties at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. Patients were asked to give their best and worst experiences with a Mayo physician and to provide specifics about their encounters.

Of the seven behaviors researchers identified, the most frequently mentioned was "thorough," while "empathetic" was mentioned the least. Patients rarely talked about a physician's technical competence, researchers said, because it is often difficult to assess.

When patients detailed their worst experiences, they said physicians were arrogant in dismissing their input, and disinterested and impatient in answering questions.

In an editorial accompanying the study, James Li, MD, PhD, lists the seven opposites of the ideal behaviors: timid, uncaring, misleading, cold, callous, disrespectful and hurried. He questioned if heath care can be high quality if the patient-physician relationship consists of such poor characteristics.

Dr. Li said many health care organizations, including the Mayo Clinic, have developed formal curricula on doctor-patient relationships to improve the quality of the encounters.

"Physicians can improve and learn new ways to interact with patients," said Dr. Li, chair of the division of allergic disease at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester.

The study's authors said the seven ideal behaviors could serve as a training platform and an assessment model for health care professionals. Doctors should try to understand how patients perceive them and hone their skills, so they practice the desired behaviors, the study said. Practices could periodically survey patients to identify ways to strengthen the doctor-patient relationship.

"There's nothing on the list that's unrealistic or too much to ask" of a doctor, said Dr. Berry, distinguished professor of marketing at Mays Business School, Texas A&M University. "Knowing that patients want more than an effective treatment or a correct diagnosis is helpful."

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External links

"Patients' Perspectives on Ideal Physician Behaviors," abstract, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, March (link)

"The Quality of Caring," extract, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, March (link)

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