Peggy Hettick, RN, Certified Legal Nurse Consultant & Nurse Life Care Planner

Your Medical Investigator.

Bedside Manners or Medical Skills?

Posted 14 August, 2017

When you are faced with choosing a doctor, do you chose a doctor who is known for their bedside manner, or their medical skills?

Of course, the best-case is getting the whole package: a talented physician who listens and communicates well.  but there are times when one of those skills trumps the other.  So when is it most important to demand good bedside manner and when should you focus more on skill?

Bedside manner is key in your primary care doctor, where an open and long-term relationship is most beneficial to your well-being.  It's important for you to feel comfortable about sharing personal health information and for your primary care doctor to be a good listener so that he or she can get a good handle on all of the details of your health.

The same holds true if you're coping with a chronic illness that requires care over time, or if dealing with a serious condition such as cancer.  A good doctor-patient communication is very important.

Hard-core medical skills should be your primary focus in certain instances, such as a single event like surgery.  You'll have little interaction with the surgeon and no long-term relationship, so you can probably put up with a lack of interpersonal skills as long as he or she is a good clinician. 

In a medical crisis, it's great if the emergency room doctor is kind.  But bedside manner has to take a backseat to experience and skill in that scenario, especially in the middle of the night or during weekends, when ERs are under the most pressure. 

A recent survey showed patients who felt they weren't listened to or respected from medical staff were two and a half times more likely to experience a medical error such as a hospital infection, wrong diagnosis or a prescription mistake as those who felt they were treated well.