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Main article: Therapeutic processes

Physician patient interaction or The doctor-patient relationship is central to the practice of medicine and is essential for the delivery of high-quality health care in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. The doctor-patient relationship forms one of the foundations of contemporary medical ethics. Most medical schools and universities teach medical students from the beginning, even before they set foot in hospitals, to maintain a professional rapport with patients, uphold patients’ dignity, and respect their privacy.

Importance[edit | edit source]

A patient must have confidence in the competence of their doctor and must feel that they can confide in him or her. For most physicians, the establishment of good rapport with a patient is important. This being said, some medical specialties, such as psychiatry and family medicine, emphasize the doctor-patient relationship more than others, such as pathology or radiology.

The quality of the patient-physician relationship is important to both parties. The better the relationship in terms of mutual respect, knowledge, trust, shared values and perspectives about disease and life, and time available, the better will be the amount and quality of information about the patient's disease transferred in both directions, enhancing accuracy of diagnosis and increasing the patient's knowledge about the disease. Where such a relationship is poor the physician's ability to make a full assessment is compromised and the patient is more likely to distrust the diagnosis and proposed treatment, causing decreased compliance to actually follow the medical advice. In these circumstances and also in cases where there is genuine divergence of medical opinions, a second opinion from another physician may be sought or the patient may choose to go to another doctor.

Issues[edit | edit source]

Physician superiority[edit | edit source]

The physician may be viewed as superior to the patient, because the physician has the knowledge and credentials, and is most often the one that is on home ground.

The doctor-patient relationship is also complicated by the patient's suffering (patient derives from the Latin patior, "suffer") and limited ability to relieve it on his/her own, potentially resulting in a state of desperation and dependency on the physician.

A physician should at least be aware of these disparities in order to establish rapport and optimize communication with the patient.

Benefiting or pleasing[edit | edit source]

A dilemma may arise in situations where what is the most efficient treatment (or avoidance of treatment) is not the same as what the patient wants for various reasons. In such cases, the physician may need to choose between the patient's physical health or other rather material benefits on one hand and the doctor-patient relationship or other psychological or emotional aspect on the other.

Formal or casual[edit | edit source]

There may be differences in opinion between the doctor and patient in how formal or casual the doctor-patient relationship should be.

For instance, according to a Scottish study,[1] patients want to be addressed by their first name more often than is currently the case. In this study, most of the patients either liked (223) or did not mind (175) being called by their first names. Only 77 disliked it, most of whom were aged over 65.[1] On the other hand, most patients don't want to call the doctor by his or her first name.[1]

Perspectives[edit | edit source]

The physician-patient relationship can be analyzed from the perspective of ethical concerns, in terms of how well the goals of non-maleficence, beneficence, autonomy, and justice are achieved. Many other values and ethical issues can be added to these. In different societies, periods, and cultures, different values may be assigned different priorities. For example, in the last 30 years medical care in the Western World has increasingly emphasized patient autonomy in decision making.

The relationship and process can also be analyzed in terms of social power relationships (e.g., by Michel Foucault), or economic transactions. Physicians have been accorded gradually higher status and respect over the last century, and they have been entrusted with control of access to prescription medicines as a public health measure. This represents a concentration of power and carries both advantages and disadvantages to particular kinds of patients with particular kinds of conditions. A further twist has occurred in the last 25 years as costs of medical care have risen, and a third party (an insurance company or government agency) now often insists upon a share of decision-making power for a variety of reasons, reducing freedom of choice of healthcare providers and patients in many ways.

In some settings, e.g. the hospital ward, the patient-physician relationship is much more complex, and many other people are involved when somebody is ill: relatives, neighbors, rescue specialists, nurses, technical personnel, social workers and others.

Non-Western Perspectives[edit | edit source]

In non-Western societies, the physician/patient relationship may be couched in different terms. The illness may be seen as a violation of the spiritual realm and the cure will be seen likewise as having to take place in the spiritual realm. Violation of some spiritual rule can result in illness; persons distant to the patient may have caused illness by manoeuvres in the spiritual realm, by cursing or causing another practitioner / shaman / healer to place the curse. Powerful faith in these factors can result in serious illness or cure. Spirits can be part of a culture's usual pantheon, ancestor spirits or arbitrary new spirit forces arising independently or as derived from an existing object in the real world: such as an animist spirit coming from a totem animal, mountain or other thing. As in the scientific West, the practitioner is assumed to have special knowledge or power, and is paid by the patient in some form.

Bedside manner[edit | edit source]

Bedside manner is a term describing how a healthcare professional handles a patient, and is essential in affecting the doctor-patient relationship. A good bedside manner is typically one that reassures and comforts the patient while remaining honest about a diagnosis. Vocal tones, body language, openness, presence, and concealment of attitude may all affect bedside manner. Poor bedside manner leaves the patient feeling unsatisfied, worried, frightened, or alone. Bedside manner becomes difficult when a healthcare professional explains to the patient the true diagnosis, while keeping the patient from being alarmed.

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See also[edit | edit source]

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Wiktionary: bedside manner

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 McKinstry B (October 1990). Should general practitioners call patients by their first names?. BMJ 301 (6755): 795–6.

Further information[edit | edit source]

  • Alexander GC, Casalino LP, Meltzer DO (August 2003). Patient-physician communication about out-of-pocket costs. JAMA 290 (7): 953–8.
  • Alexander GC, Casalino LP, Tseng CW, McFadden D, Meltzer DO (August 2004). Barriers to patient-physician communication about out-of-pocket costs. J Gen Intern Med 19 (8): 856–60.
  • Alexander GC, Casalino LP, Meltzer DO (March 2005). Physician strategies to reduce patients' out-of-pocket prescription costs. Arch. Intern. Med. 165 (6): 633–6.
  • Alexander GC, Lantos JD (2006). The doctor-patient relationship in the post-managed care era. Am J Bioeth 6 (1): 29–32.
  • Pham HH, Alexander GC, O'Malley AS (April 2007). Physician consideration of patients' out-of-pocket costs in making common clinical decisions. Arch. Intern. Med. 167 (7): 663–8.

External links[edit | edit source]

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