Demystifying Medicine One Month at a Time

Bedside Manner

When you think of bedside manner, what type of person comes to mind?

I often hear people comment on the bedside  manner of various doctors. But what about all of the other folks who care for patients in and around hospital settings?

Reader Elizabeth O’Malley sent in this guest post, which among other things reminds us to be less physician-centric in our worldview.


Humane care can help decrease patient stress levels, especially in hospitals. Ironically, hospital employees are often the most over-burdened, and are sometimes pressed to be efficient rather than affable. While many workers do their best to consider bedside manner in their interactions with patients, the system and its employees still suffer from strain, resulting in a rushed environment in which some patients feel ignored. This can lead to more stress and longer recovery time for patients—does the system really need more disgruntled patients?

Bedside manner is one of those things that seems like a given in concept, but in practice, it can be easy to forget. However, is it important for everyone? If you are considering who spends the most time with patients, then certainly registered nurses, certified nursing assistants, and nurse practitioners would need to have the best bedside manner. Nurses play a vital role in patient care and spend the most time interacting with patients. In many cases, patients rely on speaking with nurses, as their doctor may be busy working with other patients. Since nurses help administer care for patients, they are often the hospital’s first point of contact with patients and have the ability to create a good first impression. Since nurses spend the most time with patients on a day-to-day basis, not only can they provide patients with important information about their illness, but they can also provide the moral support patients look for in health care professionals.

If the primary factor is who is supposed to be the most trusted advisor to the patient, then physicians would need to have the best bedside manner. If a patient is waiting in the hospital, and keeps being told by her nurse that the doctor will be in to see her, she will put a lot of emphasis on her physician’s visit, even if it is short.

X-ray technicians also play an important role in the hospital setting and can use their interaction with patients to create positive rapport. With more patient needing sophisticated scans from space-age looking body imaging machines, these technicians can ease the fears of patients who may be intimidated by the technology surrounding them.

In today’s troubled economic climate and considering the number of Americans without access to health insurance, hospital billing specialists may also need to tap into their own form of bedside manner in order to deal with the growing number of Americans who cannot afford to pay their hospital bills. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), about 50 million Americans reported not having health insurance in 2010. These specialists often deal with patients at their most stressed, and will need to be respectful and calm while speaking with them on the phone.

For some people, a naturally compassionate bedside manner may not come easily. Studies have shown that both self-reflection and modeling someone with excellent bedside manner can be the most effect way to learn this important skill. Despite who may have the most interaction with a patient or the most influence, each hospital employee has a responsibility to themselves and their patients to reflect on their care, because no matter which way you look at it, every employee has an effect on the people they interact with, and the possibility of making the hospitals they work in better places to be.

Elizabeth O’Malley graduated with a degree in Public Health Administration before relocating with her family to Seattle. She is currently a free-lance writer; her favorite topics include health care, work-life balance, and travel.


  1. Adrian Calvetti

    I’m thinking beside manner IS key…regardless of the title of the person helping out.

  2. Tania Vitorino

    Bedside manner is so important; even hearing docs and nurses admit they don’t know what’s going on is reassuring when they are honest and open. thanks for the post.

  3. Elia Thell

    You could definitely see your enthusiasm in the work you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart.

  4. Mike McKenna

    I think that the professionalism of the rest of the care team is something that gets forgotten about. How pleasant, helpful, diligent front office staff, nurses, MA’s, PCA’s can also make a huge difference both inpatient, but especially as an outpatient doctor.

  5. belinda

    I have been the main caregiver for my elderly aunt while she was in the hospital. I have been a nurse for 30 years. She had a complicated recoovery involving two surgeries, ICU stay, total of 2 months in the hospital. Her main dr would come at 7 am and spend all of 1 minute or less with her. I changed my schedule so I wouldn’t miss her visit. Her bedside manner was “nice” but placating, “I changed that, we’ll fix that….” without really explaining what was going on. The doctors that impressed me most, the ones I really felt listened to are the ones that actually sat in a chair or on the edge of a chair and really didn’t spend that much more time, but it was the effort that was appreciated and it did SEEM like it was much longer because of the quality of the interaction.

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