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Don't sugar the pill, patients want straight talking doctors
A friendly GP with a sympathetic and upbeat bedside manner may seem like the perfect physician. But a new study has suggested most people do not want their doctors to sugar the pill, but just ‘tell it to them straight’ without offering false hope or optimism. In fact, the majority of patients would rather that their GP kept a professional distance, bordering on ‘aloof’ when they are considering a diagnosis.
The findings contradict previous research that suggests the doctor-patient relationship is now more equal, with patients viewing themselves as consumers of healthcare who have often Googled their own symptoms and can be highly informed about their own conditions.
When researchers at the University of Southampton video-taped the consultations of 320 patients who visited 25 doctors in the city, they found that actually patients preferred a traditional style of doctor, who knew them personally, but who was relatively distant and professional.
“At the beginning of the consultations there were positive associations with being supportive and (perhaps surprisingly) with being professionally ‘aloof’, and negative associations for optimism which may reflect the importance early in the consultation of a cooler but supportive professional manner in helping patients feel listened to,” said Professor Paul Little of the University of Southampton,
“Demonstrating knowledge of the patient and their history, irrespective of being the usual doctor, was relevant for patients having a sense of a personal relationship, and highlights the importance when the GP is not the usual doctor of quickly checking the key elements of the patient’s past history.”
The team studied footage of the consultations recording the verbal interactions and body language of the clinicians, rating friendliness, sense of humour, body orientation, gestures, touching, nodding and gazing before asking patients to rate the appointment. The research showed that the majority of patients wanted a supportive but ‘professionally cool’ GP who kept language short and to the point, was not overly optimistic. In contrast patients hated feeling patronised or being treated like a child. But they liked it when doctors knew their past history and enquired about their personal life.
The average consultation time for most GPs is currently just 12 minutes, which means doctors have just a small amount of time to build rapport and trust with their patients. Patient groups have long argued that it is not enough to get to grips with difficult problems, but the new study gives doctors greater insights in what makes people feel more comfortable and listened to. NHS England says that doctors should use their clinical judgement to decided how much time to give patients on a case-by-case basis.
The research was published in the British Journal of General Practice.
The Telegraph - Tuesday 26th May 2015