Elizabeth Renter

One doesn’t just decide to be a medical doctor one day and take on patients the next. It takes years of education and practice. But in that six-figure education, US doctors might be missing some basic knowledge of bedside manners and etiquette. A new study from Johns Hopkins University found that doctors-in-training aren’t only rude, but they are rude without realizing it.

Published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, the study looked at 29 internal medicine interns at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical Center for three weeks. These are doctors in their first year out of medical school—they are the newbies.

The researchers found these new doctors to be less than cordial to their patients, lacking in five basic strategies known as “etiquette-based communication.” The results of the study indicate not just a problem at the two hospitals tracked, but a culture where the corporate medicine-machine is more important than the service they provide.

“Basic things make a difference in patient outcomes and they’re not being done to the extent they should be,” said lead researcher Dr. Leonard S. Feldman, according to UPI.com. “These are things that matter to patients and are relatively easy to do so.”

The five key strategies measured in the study included: Touching the patient, asking open-ended questions, introducing oneself to the patient, explaining one’s role in the patients care, and sitting down with the patient.

The interns were followed and observers measured the frequency in which they employed these strategies. During 118 hours of work, observers witnessed 732 inpatient encounters. Of those, interns:

· Touched their patients in 65 percent of encounters (this touch wasn’t always a comforting pat on the shoulder, but also included physical examinations),

· Asked open-ended questions 75 percent of the time,

· Introduced themselves only 40 percent of the time,

· Explained their role 37 percent of the time, and

· Sat down with the patient in only 9 percent of encounters.

When asked how often they believed they were doing these key actions, the interns overestimated their compassion—thinking they introduced themselves and explained their role 80 percent of the time and sat down with patients 58 percent of the time.

What do the results mean?

First-year interns understandably have a lot going on and are likely under a significant amount of stress—to believe otherwise wouldn’t be fair. However, if patient care and nurturing are truly among their priorities, one would think it would show in their patient interactions.

Gone are the days when the family doctor knew your medical history without looking at your file and asked you about your daughter’s ear infection or your husband’s diabetes. Now many doctors are mere machines, cogs in a giant medical system that functions merely as a profit generator for hospitals, pharmaceutical corporations and the insurance industry.

The study affirms what patients have been noticing for years that personal medical care has been abandoned in favor of impersonal diagnostic and prescription services. It’s this fact that has sent many looking for alternatives, increasing the number of people interested in natural health and self-healing.

Not all doctors are impersonal. Not all of them forget to tell you their name, explain what they’re doing or stand over you in a physical position of power. Similarly, not all of them are looking for a way to get you dependent on more medications. Many are in the field for the right reasons and are able to provide quality care.

If you are a consumer of medical services, it’s your job to seek out these physicians and healers and give them your business. Billions of dollars are spent every single year on health care in this nation and some of those dollars should be going to the people who have truly earned it.