During a recent and troubling discussion with a physician friend, he described to me a new ailment he’s been experiencing: waking up in the morning, and not looking forward to going to work. The reality is that he is not alone.
It’s no secret that physicians across the country, regardless of their specialty or location, are reaching their limit for juggling new requirements, technology upgrades, and policy changes, all while trying to deliver personalized, quality care to their patients.
As a result, busy physicians are, quite understandably feeling pressured and pulled away from direct patient care and critical clinical-decision making, and, at the end of the day, that is what matters most to patients and physicians alike.
A recent study from Johns Hopkins University found that internal medicine interns are lacking proper bedside etiquette, which is not only essential to providing quality care, it directly impacts medical outcomes and patient satisfaction scores. Focusing on five key elements of proper patient-physician decorum, researchers tracked whether or not hospital interns:
- Introduced themselves,
- Explained their role in the patient’s care,
- Touched the patient,
- Asked open-ended questions, or
- Sat down with the patient during the visit.
Results revealed that interns touched their patients (either during a physical exam, handshake or gentle, supportive touch) 65 percent of the time and asked open-ended questions 75 percent of the time, but introduced themselves only 40 percent of the time, explained their role merely 37 percent of the time, and actually sat down during only nine percent of the visits. Such results are disconcerting, at best, and reveal a more pressing truth: These basic and critical communication deficiencies that are essential to providing holistic patient care are not being taught.
But, as they say, “knowledge is power,” and now that we are starting to pinpoint conditions that are tearing at our profession, we can start to heal them. We can’t expect our medical interns to know how to handle difficult and emotional situations unless we show them. We need to teach them how to engage with patients, earn their trust, really listen and understand them. They need to be able to view what their patients say through both a lens of science and medicine, as well as a lens of compassion and caring, in order to help them get and stay well.