How good bedside manner helps patients and medics

There is a vital person behind every patient that you treat, and that person is you.

At the end of the day when the shift is over, the transports done, care provided and lives saved — or not — our lives go on. We all go home with the knowledge that we alone are responsible for the care we provide.

A lot happens during a shift, things that we have no control over. How we respond to the things we can control are directly related to not only our patient’s welfare, but just as importantly, our own.

It is easy to respond to a call, instantly size things up, and act according to our perception of what we think needs to be done. It’s not so easy to take ourselves out of the picture, stifle the basic human instinct to judge, and do what is best for the patient.

Need means different things to different people. Some folks need a little; some folks need a lot. And there are always those whose need is endless. It is not for us to judge, and doing so begins a cycle that results in missed opportunities to do our job — which at its core is making people feel better.

Falling into the trap of repetitive patient care, with little thought of the person with the symptoms, or the person behind the patient, makes for a dull, uninspiring career. By avoiding the act of simply “going through the motions,” we can avoid the pool of stagnation that threatens to overtake every call, and every provider.

Why patients benefit from caring providers

There is evidence that doctors with better communication skills and patient interaction training, such as warmth building and empathy transference, has a positive affect on a patient’s health. Reporter Amy Norton writes in an April 9, 2014 Health Day article:

The researchers ended up with 13 clinical trials from around the world. In each, health providers — most often doctors — were randomly assigned to either stick with their usual care or have some kind of training on patient interaction. Some focused on building ‘warmth’ and empathy, Riess said, while others taught providers specific techniques, like ‘motivational interviewing’.

In most of the trials, though not all, patients seemed to benefit. Obese and diabetic patients tended to lose more weight, arthritis patients reported less pain, and people with high blood pressure did a better job of lowering their numbers.

Those effects were ‘modest’ overall, Riess and colleagues found. But the magnitude of the benefit was similar to what's been seen in studies testing low-dose aspirin or cholesterol-lowering statins for preventing heart attack, according to the new research.

What about us?

But what about similar health benefits for providers? The information regarding positive effects of comfortable, caring and empathetic patient interaction on providers is ominously scarce. What about us, I ask?

While hard evidence is scarce, the proof is everywhere. Sometimes the evidence is right before our eyes; we simply fail to see it.

An effective strategy for improving your EMS experience is to observe the people in the field. There are people who thrive, and people who flounder.

Try to see the qualities of the ones who are successful and emulate those qualities while being aware of the habits of the providers who are miserable. By simply observing, it becomes obvious that kindness and compassion are far more effective tools than cynicism and sarcasm.

Most of us finish our shift, get in our personal vehicles and drive home. Alone.

This is one of the most important parts of my day. It is when everything comes together in my head. With the knowledge that I have done my best, and treated my patients the way that I would want to be treated, comes inner peace and satisfaction — without which I would lose the ability to get out of bed and do it all again tomorrow.

About the author

Michael Morse is a retired Rescue Captain with the Providence (RI) Fire Department. He is the author of the books Mr. Wilson Makes it Home, Rescuing Providence and Responding. His columns appear in numerous fire and EMS publications and the Providence Journal. He can be reached by email to Michael Morse

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