Traits of the ideal doctor


A Mayo Clinic study finds that behavior, not skill, is the key to positive patient perception.

Dr. Arnold Melnick, former president of the College of Osteopathic Pediatricians, wrote in the osteopathic medicine magazine The D.O. (April 2007) about a time his wife needed major surgery. "The chief surgeon was highly recommended by many colleagues," he says. "But he essentially said only two things to my wife: 'We'll operate Monday' and 'Are you ready to go home?' The discharge visit was the only hospital call he made. Otherwise, we interacted with a surgical resident." Dr. Melnick continues, "Even though the surgery was successful, I'd never use his services again."

Bob Levoy

This illustrates the importance of the human touch—now confirmed in a study of Mayo Clinic patients who described their best and worst experiences with a physician at the clinic. The study found seven behaviors that define the "ideal" physician. According to Mayo patients, the best doctors are:

1. Confident. "The doctor's confidence gives me confidence."

2. Empathetic. "The doctor tries to understand what I'm experiencing, physically and emotionally, and communicates that understanding."

3. Humane. "The doctor is caring, compassionate, and kind."

4. Personal. "The doctor is interested in me as more than just a patient, interacts with me, and remembers me as an individual."

5. Forthright. "The doctor tells me what I need to know in plain language."

6. Respectful. "The doctor takes my input seriously and works with me."

7. Thorough. "The doctor is conscientious and persistent."

This finding "doesn't suggest that technical skills are less important than personal skills," researchers say. "But it does suggest that the former are more difficult for patients to judge." Here's a reality check: How well does your personal physician meet these criteria? How well do you?

Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Bob Levoy is a speaker based in Roslyn, N.Y., who focuses on profitability. His newest book is 222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices (Jones and Bartlett, 2007).

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