During clinical rotations, you will inevitably encounter one of the most difficult challenges you faced in medical school: dealing with a patient. Many new physicians have trouble empathizing with their patients. As seen in this New York Times article, some U.S. medical school students have struggled with cultivating their bedside manner and some should have failed their clinical courses because of poor behavior and communication skills with patients and hospital staff. Unfortunately, U.S. medical schools have not found a way to comprehensively judge their students’ professionalism and decorum with patients, which has resulted in less compassionate physicians. When they move onto their residencies, patient propriety continues to be low on their list of priorities.
A new study reveals that residents have been spending less time with patients than ever before. In the late 80’s, they spent 20% of their time with patients, but now spend only 12% in patient care, averaging eight minutes per patient. For residents, this is the result of a number of issues, including electronic record keeping, which forces them to spend the majority of their time at a computer instead of treating a patient in person, and a mandatory decrease in duty hours set by the federal government.
Consequently, patient satisfaction has suffered. Their contentment is an incredibly important component of their treatment and overall well-being. Shorter meetings with patients could lead to misdiagnosis and under or over prescription. This increases the risk of a physician being slapped with a malpractice suit as well. However, you shouldn’t let the threat of being sued hang over you like the Sword of Damocles. Instead, focus on exercising courtesy and compassion with your patients.
You need to put yourself in their shoes to understand what concerns them the most about their condition and treatment. Familiarize yourself with the Patients’ Bill of Rights. These are typically non-binding, but some states have enacted them into law-check health policy. It’s also a good list of basic patient concerns. New York, for example, has it listed on the Department of Health’s website. These great resources will ensure you never lose touch with what your patient is feeling.
At American University of Antigua (AUA) College of Medicine, we instill compassion in our students with early hands-on training. This gives students an idea about what it is like to work with patients and allows them to apply the knowledge they have been learning in their courses to real life situations. They’re provided with simulated doctors’ offices and labs to build and refine their skills. By developing these skills early, our students are better prepared to meet the demands of their position when they’re in the field and master the essentials of patient interaction.
Because empathy is more of a characteristic than a skill, it can be difficult to demonstrate, especially considering time limitations and over-scheduling. There aren’t any MCAT-type tests that can quantify a quality and determine your ability to become a compassionate physician. A study published in The Journal of General Internal Medicine proved that the ideal amount of time to spend with a patient is 18 minutes and suggested not to have more than three or four patient visits an hour. Though there may be constraints preventing you from spending the time needed with your patient, do your best to maintain a decent balance between paperwork and patient interaction.