Bedside manners are very important to a patient’s clinical experience and overall health-related outcome, and there is no doubt that some practitioners lack in this area. However, what has become more and more clear is that many of today’s patients are also lacking in bedside manners.
In fact, it often feels as though normal civilized discourse has been all but thrown out of the window—especially in light of the global reach of social media platforms. It used to be that we honored the tradition of being able to disagree with others’ positions or opinions while still valuing them as people. In general these days, I am not sure that I see much evidence of that.
There are certainly times in our lives when we make mistakes, and owning up to those mistakes is an important step in making things right with ourselves or any other parties involved. But what about the times when we are not at fault, yet others believe that we have wronged them?
It is not uncommon to hear stories of patients “shaming” practitioners and practices regarding services and fees that patients consider to be unreasonable or that are otherwise misunderstood. For instance, I heard of a colleague who was publicly ridiculed for charging a fee to adjust spectacles that were purchased online rather than at the practice. Ironically, some online distributors will reimburse patients for this out-of-pocket expense. Or, consider the stories of patients who do not understand the difference between their medical and vision insurance; of course, practitioners and/or their offices are to blame, and the entire world needs to know. The list could go on and on. When did it become OK to use public online forums to promote vigilantism, mob mentality, and public humiliation? Has everyone forgotten the words of Alexander Pope: “To err is human; to forgive, divine”?
In the end, it is likely that bedside manners on our part go a long way toward improving relations with all of our patients. As Emily Post reminded us as children, it is important to remember the “magic words”—please, thank you, you’re welcome, I’m sorry, and excuse me. They go a long way in building positive relationships in our work and personal lives.