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Winter 2024 - Critical Care

Why Bedside Manner Matters – and How to Make Yours Better

Patient-centered care is more than a buzzword: It's a behavior that makes good doctors great.

Imagine this: An overworked, burned out physician with a long list of patients still to be seen bustles through an exam room door to see a patient who has been waiting for over an hour. The physician barely looks at the patient before bombarding him with questions, then sends the patient away with a prescription and a promise that taking it for a week will cure his ailment. The physician leaves the room as quickly as she came into it, moving on to the next exam room while the patient walks away unsure the doctor really heard him and not at all confident the prescription will help. The patient leaves feeling like a problem to fix, not a person to treat.

As a medical provider, you might be good at diagnosing and treating ailments, and the medication you prescribe may indeed alleviate patients’ symptoms, but knowledge, know-how and a bottle of pills aren’t nearly enough for treating patients well.

The best doctors aren’t just educated: They’re also empathetic. Good care is competent, but great care is also compassionate. It values and prioritizes the provider-patient relationship. Great care remembers patients are people, not just problems, and it treats them accordingly, working hard to establish and maintain trust. The best providers understand that patients who feel comfortable with their doctors are more likely to follow the recommended care plan, which can lead to improved outcomes.

And it goes further than that, too: For everyone who works in the healthcare industry — doctors, physician assistants, nurses, medical assistants, the list could go on — the difference between good patient care and great patient care comes down to bedside manner.

What Is Bedside Manner?

An integral part of patient-centered care, bedside manner involves the attitude and actions with which a medical professional interacts with patients. It’s a broad term that encompasses many things: dress, deportment and demeanor, as well as bearing and behavior. Bedside manner can be either good or bad, but either way, one knows it when one sees it.

Poor bedside manner can also be many things, but it is often dismissive, rude, condescending or even detached, disinterested or distracted. It is often associated with lack of patient trust. Patients who do not perceive their providers as caring are less likely to put their confidence in them.1

On the other hand, good bedside manner is influenced by providers’ unique personalities and temperament. Providers who are friendly and attentive, make eye contact and offer a kind touch are consistently described as having good bedside manner, and patients who report good communication with their doctors are more likely to be satisfied with their care.2

Poor bedside manner diminishes patients’ humanity, while good bedside manner preserves patients’ dignity.

Reasons to Improve Bedside Manner

Treating a patient with respect is of the utmost importance, but there are other reasons to prioritize good bedside manner:

1) Patients care about it. In 2020, Healthgrades and Medical Group Management Association conducted an analysis of 8.4 million healthcare provider reviews and published its findings in the Patient Sentiment Report. The report provides insights into how patients experience healthcare and the factors that most strongly influence their perceptions of care quality.3 It showed patients consistently cite bedside manner as a major influence upon their perception of a given provider. In fact, 59 percent of all comments mentioned bedside manner, including the doctors’ personalities, the patients’ comfort with their doctor and how doctors made patients feel.3

2) It reduces patient stress. “Patients bring fear, anxiety and self-pity into the exam room,” says Barry D. Silverman, MD, a cardiologist in Atlanta, Ga.4 Worrisome symptoms make them feel uncertain and even hopeless, and they seek the opinion and expertise of trained medical professionals for help. According to Dr. Silverman, “it has always been the doctor’s responsibility to calm their fears and provide hope. The accomplished doctor has a bedside manner that is humane and com-passionate, empathetic and supportive.”4 Clinicians’ positive, upbeat and kind manner can put patients at ease, help them feel more comfortable and ultimately reduce stress during a difficult situation.

3) It improves patient outcomes. Patients who feel rushed during appointments tend to underreport their symptoms and/or concerns, and they also tend to shy away from asking questions. But when patients leave out important, relevant information, their outcomes can be negatively affected. However, a positive attitude and a kind word from a provider who demonstrates genuine concern about and care for patients can encourage them to share more openly, which can ultimately have a positive influence on patients’ recovery.5 But it’s not just about what providers say, it’s also about how they express it. “With good bedside manner, providers are ultimately able to improve communication and reduce errors,” according to UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.6 “[Good bedside manner] is a crucial part of their patients’ recovery. Not only does it affect how patients feel in the hospital, but also how much they learn about caring for themselves at home.”

Good bedside manner understandably puts patients at ease. It can even influence patients’ perceptions of how well a care plan or given treatment is working. “Patients who perceive that their doctor has good bedside manner are more likely to view their treatment as effective, more likely to be treatment-compliant and more likely to experience a reduction in symptoms and improved recovery,” says Sophia Parnas, MS, clinical psychologist and lead author of “Navigating the Social Synapse: the Neurobiology of Bedside Manner.”7

While good bedside manner is related to better outcomes, bad bedside manner is also related to poor outcomes, and in some situations, can even be considered malpractice. “While bad bedside manner is not a direct medical error, it can impact the quality of care a patient receives,” explains Donovan, O’Connor and Dodge, a law firm that represents patients suffering repercussions of medical malpractice.1 “Patients who feel disrespected or ignored may be less likely to trust their doctor’s advice or comply with their potentially lifesaving treatment plans […] For example, if a doctor’s dismissive attitude causes a patient’s condition to worsen, resulting in additional medical expenses or lost wages, the patient may be able to pursue a malpractice claim.”

4) It fosters a positive patient experience. Doctors may be knowledgeable and accomplished, but if they have poor people skills or even just a bad attitude, they can negatively affect the patients’ perceptions of their overall experience, even if the providers are competent. “Patient experience has less to do with the final result of care provided and focuses instead on the delivery of the healthcare a patient receives from a provider in entirety — clinical and nonclinical — from the perspective of the patient.”8 In other words, the principles of good bedside manner ought to be extend beyond the exam room. Every interaction between patients and the practice or hospital, from specialists and support staff to online portals and parking spaces, ought to be professional, courteous and conducted with patients in mind. Things such as plenty of accessible parking; friendly and courteous support staff; after-hours contact information; limited wait time; updated and easy-to-navigate websites; clean, stocked restrooms; even a clean, comfortable waiting room — demonstrate providers care about the patients’ overall experience.

5) It increases healthcare professionals’ job satisfaction. According to, “healthcare professionals who find that they get along more easily with their patients also tend to enjoy their careers more than those who don’t value their patients.”5 Further, they tend to “receive more favorable reviews, work harder than their peers and find success throughout their career as they’re granted additional opportunities to advance in their career.”5

Take Time to C.A.R.E. graphic

8 Ways to Improve Bedside Manner

1) Connect with your patients. Enter the room with a smile and greet patients by name. Pronounce patients’ names correctly; if you’re unsure, politely ask for clarification. Introduce yourself to patients and anyone accompanying them. Shake hands and smile. Break the ice by asking open-ended questions when you first meet them. Ask them about their weekend plans, whether they are enjoying the sunshine (or tired of the rain) or what grade they are in at school. Showing an interest in them will help put them at ease.

2) Be aware of body language. Sit down, unfold your arms and make eye contact. Smile.

3) Really listen. Ask what brings them in today. Let your patients tell their stories. Actively listen to what they have to say. To the best of your ability, enter clinical notes into patients’ charts after patients are done talking.

4) Show empathy. Consider the situation from their point of view. Be honest and direct without being rude or condescending.

5) Value their time. Don’t rush through the appointment. Make sure to focus your attention completely on them with what little time you do have, and don’t abruptly leave the room.

6) Use language patients understand. Avoid medical jargon. Choose simple lay terms instead. Be candid but diplomatic.9

7) Develop a care plan together. Treat patients as equal partners in their care.9 Ask for their input and, if possible, give them choices.

8) Validate patients’ feelings. Show your patients you “get it.” Acknowledge their concerns and reassure them they are in good hands. Ask if they have any questions or if there is anything else you can do for them.

Practice Makes Progress

Bedside manner is a nebulous and yet necessary part of practicing medicine that is — in theory — easy to learn, but in reality takes discipline to develop. Learning from colleagues who have excellent reputations is a helpful practice: Watch how they interact with patients and incorporate what you observe into your own interpersonal style.

And remember: Bedside manner is all about building trust. Providers see patients when they are at their most vulnerable. They’re often in the middle of a stressful situation; worried about what their symptoms might mean; uncomfortable with divulging personal information to strangers; uncertain about what their future holds. They come to medical providers for expertise, experience and empathy, but before providers can address the medical problem, they must put their patients at ease so that they can better focus on listening and responding to what the providers are saying.

Patients want to be seen as people, not just problems. Taking the time to develop good bedside manner is a worthy pursuit, one that will elevate good doctors to great ones. As the father of modern medicine Sir William Osler once said, “The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.”


  1. Donovan, O’Connor and Dodig, LLP. Bad Bedside Manner and Medical Malpractice, April 18, 2023. Accessed at
  2. Fong Ha, J. Doctor-Patient Communication: A Review. The Ochsner Journal, 2020 Spring; 10(1):38-43. Accessed at
  3. Healthgrades. Patient Sentiment Report. Accessed at
  4. Silverman, BD. Physician Behavior and Bedside Manners: The Influence of William Osler and The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Accessed at
  5. Hospital Careers. 15 Bedside Manners to Improve Patient Experience, Sept. 3, 2019. Accessed at
  6. UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. Bedside Manner Can Promote Healing by Making Patients Comfortable, July 16, 2016. Accessed at
  7. Drevitch, G. The Psychology of Patient Care: Why Bedside Manner Matters. Psychology Today, Jan. 16, 2023. Accessed at
  8. The Doctors Answer. You Ask. The Doctors Answer. Is Bedside Manner Really That Important? Accessed at
  9. Deepak, J. Patient-Centered Care and Good Bedside Manner. American College of Physicians. Accessed at
Rachel Maier, MS
Rachel Maier, MS, is the Associate Editor of BioSupply Trends Quarterly magazine.