As a psychologist with a medical specialization, I interact with varied other healthcare professionals – who possess the spectrum of personalities. (Bedside manner varies greatly, as well). I am training in what is called “consultation liaison” psychology, which is a fancy way of saying that I am the translator of sorts between the patient and the physician. Since I cannot be everyone’s “liaison,” I am offering some tips here on how to handle these interactions on your own, to be your best advocate for yourself.
- To paraphrase from one of the last Batman movies, sometimes the physician that you want is not the physician that you need. When setting expectations as a patient, it is important that you understand that certain personalities end up in specific roles for a reason. The surgeons are often nicknamed “cutters” because they are skilled at cutting, not chatting with patients. Nurses tend to be better listeners, as they are the front line with the medical team, and they serve that role often because their social skills in caregiving led them there. Finally, therapists and psychologists are even better listeners, again, as that is the type of personality that is drawn to the listening arts.
- Know that it is okay to challenge authority – you are the customer, ultimately. You can and should speak up. I advise patients to walk into a doctor’s appointment with a list of questions, and don’t let the doctors (and their team) leave until your questions are answered.
- However, do NOT play doctor. WebMD is not your friend. Watching Dr. Oz episodes does not give you an MD. It’s okay to ask for a second opinion from another medical professional, but trust me, WebMD does not know you as well as your treating physician. Even if your doctor is lacking in bedside manner, s/he has an MD/DO because of years of training – trust the knowledge. Some studies have shown that having confidence in your treating source (even surgeons) can impact treatment outcomes and success rates. (Notice I said confidence, not affection – you don’t have to “like” your doctor.)
- And let me close with that truth – there is a difference between trusting versus liking someone. I may like Dr. X but think he is a so-so doctor, and I may dislike the interpersonal style of Dr. Y but think she is a competent professional. Doctors, nurses, psychologists – we are all human. And we rarely look like an episode of Gray’s Anatomy, or may not talk like a Bayer aspirin commercial. There is no wizard behind the curtain. So set your expectations based on reality. And part of that reality, sadly, often involves doctors worrying more about lawsuits that being likeable. (My wife can rarely get straight answers from her doctors once they learn she is an attorney by trade.)
- And a side note for any doctors reading this – studies show that your tone matters more than content, if you want patients to like you. And the better your bedside manner, regardless of medical errors, the lower the likelihood of lawsuit – doctors who apologize and admit fault are sued far less often.