WebMD Health News
March 9, 2006 — What makes for an ideal doctor? Patients share their views in a new study.
The study appears in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. It’s based on nearly 200 patients treated at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona and Minnesota from 2001 to 2002.
In phone interviews with people who had no ties with the Mayo Clinic, the patients described their best and worst experiences with their Mayo Clinic doctors, with confidentiality guaranteed. The doctors seen by the patients came from 14 medical specialties.
The researchers — who included Neeli Bendapudi, PhD, of Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business — then checked the interview transcripts and spotted seven traits that patients favored in their doctors.
What Made the List?
Here are the seven traits listed by the patients, along with the patients’ definitions of those traits:
- Confident: “The doctor’s confidence gives me confidence.”
- Empathetic: “The doctor tries to understand what I am feeling and experiencing, physically and emotionally, and communicates that understanding to me.”
- Humane: “The doctor is caring, compassionate, and kind.”
- Personal: “The doctor is interested in me more than just as a patient, interacts with me, and remembers me as an individual.”
- Forthright: “The doctor tells me what I need to know in plain language and in a forthright manner.”
- Respectful: “The doctor takes my input seriously and works with me.”
- Thorough: “The doctor is conscientious and persistent.”
- Communication: Communication is an important part of any clinical practice. The job of a physician requires great communication skills especially when it comes to speaking and listening. The way in which a physician communicates information to a patient is just as important as the information being communicated. Patients who understand their doctors are more likely to admit their health problems, understand their treatment options, adjust their unhealthy patterns, and obediently follow their medication schedules.Empathetic: It’s important to understand and relate to a patient’s feelings. According to a study published in 2011 in Academic Medicine, patients of physicians that were more empathic were more likely to have good control over their blood sugar, while the converse was true for patients whose physician showed little to no empathy. This research suggests that when doctors respond empathetically at appropriate times, their patients tend to be happier and more motivated to stay on treatment.Passionate: No patient wants to walk into a doctor’s office and see a physician that no longer cares about their practice. A patient wants to see a doctor’s sincere desire to practice medicine and a genuine passion in helping others. Passion is a trait that will set you apart from being an ordinary doctor to being a patient’s “favorite doctor.”
Professional: Professionalism is not clearly defined in the dictionary, but in the medical field it is generally accepted as acting with appropriate demeanor, respect and possessing proficiency to perform the job. A doctor that is professional is compelled to always put the patient’s well-being above their own self-interests. A patient will have greater trust and confidence in a doctor’s abilities when their visits are conducted with good manners and respect.
That list isn’t in any particular order. The researchers didn’t check whether confidence was more important to patients than respectful treatment, for instance. The Mayo Foundation funded the study.
What Didn’t Make the List?
The traits covered doctors’ behavior, not technical know-how.
That finding “does not suggest that technical skills are less important than personal skills, but it does suggest that the former are more difficult for patients to judge,” the researchers write.
They add that patients may tend to assume that doctors are competent unless they see signs of incompetence, the researchers add.
One patient put it this way in the study:
“We want doctors who can empathize and understand our needs as a whole person. … We want to feel that our doctors have incredible knowledge in their field. But every doctor needs to know how to apply their knowledge with wisdom and relate to us as plain folks who are capable of understanding our disease and treatment.”
Who Wants a Cold, Callous Doctor?
The study is the first of its kind, writes James Li, MD, PhD, in a journal editorial.
Li works in the allergic diseases division of the Mayo Clinic’s medical school in Rochester, Minn. He notes that he would have liked to have seen more details on the patients who were interviewed, such as sex, race, and age. This information would be helpful since minorities and women have sometimes reported worse treatment from doctors than whites and men.
Still, Li says it’s natural for patients to want caring caregivers. He drafted a list of seven traits that are the opposite of those mentioned in the study:
“Can health-care really ever be high quality if the patient-physician interaction is hurried, disrespectful, cold, callous, or uncaring?” Li writes.
Consumer Guide to Health Care
Health Care and Quality
Disclaimer: All external hyperlinks are provided for your information and for the benefit of the general public. The Department of Health Services does not testify to, sponsor, or endorse the accuracy of the information provided on externally linked pages.
Does the quality of health care vary?
Yes, some health plans and doctors simply do a better job than others of helping you stay healthy and getting you better if you are ill. The choices you make—about health plans, doctors, hospitals, or nursing homes—can influence the quality of care you get.
How can you tell which choices offer high-quality health care and which do not?
Fortunately, more and more groups are working on ways to measure, report on, and improve the quality of health care. Keep checking for new information to help you make choices to improve the quality of your own care.
What is high-quality health care and how is it measured?
High-quality health care means doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, for the right person—and having the best possible results. There are two main types of information that can help you choose high-quality health care:
- Consumer ratings: These look at health care from the consumer’s point of view. For example, do doctors in a health care plan communicate well?
- Clinical performance/technical measures: These measures look at how well a health care organization prevents and treats illness. For example, do children get the immunizations (shots) they need when they need them?
Where can I find information on the quality of health care?
Reports on quality go by different names, including performance reports and report cards. Reports on quality don’t tell you which health care choices are the best. They can help you decide which are best for you, based on the things that are most important to you. Here are some reports on the quality of health care in Wisconsin:
Quality and health plans
- NCQA Health Choices displays Health Plan Report Cards compiled by the National Committee on Quality Assurance (NCQA). NCQA is a private nonprofit organization that accredits health plans. Accreditation is a “seal of approval.” To earn accreditation, organizations must meet national standards, often including clinical performance measures. Organizations choose whether to participate in accreditation programs. Accreditation is not a guarantee of the quality of care that any individual patient will receive or that any individual physician or other provider delivers.
- Medicare Plan Finder from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provides recent consumer ratings and clinical performance measures for all Medicare managed care plans.
- Wisconsin BadgerCare Plus HMO Choice Booklet (includes BadgerCare Plus Report Card) (PDF, 292 KB) compares HMOs that serve Wisconsin BadgerCare Plus members in nine areas of health care and four areas of member satisfaction.
- Health Plan Report Card (PDF, 3.5 MB) is published by the Department of Employee Trust Funds for state employees. The report card includes consumer ratings and technical measures.
- The Performance and Progress Report from the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality includes information on quality for a variety of Wisconsin health plans.
Quality and hospitals
- Hospital Compare, from CMS, allows you to check on the quality of care provided for conditions like heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia at hospitals throughout the country.
- Checkpoint, from the Wisconsin Hospital Association, provides some information on the quality of care provided by many Wisconsin hospitals. The site includes measures of how well hospitals performed when caring for patients with heart attacks, heart failure, and pneumonia as well as information on what hospitals are doing to prevent errors.
- The Leapfrog Group Hospital Survey: Reports from hospitals on progress they have made toward meeting four safety standards established by The Leapfrog Group, a coalition of public and private organizations that purchase health care benefits for their employees.
- The Performance and Progress Report from the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality includes information on quality for many Wisconsin hospitals.
Quality and nursing homes
- Nursing Home Compare, from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, provides clinical performance measures and results of state inspections for all Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing homes.
Quality and doctors/clinics
- The Performance and Progress Report from the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality includes information on quality for many Wisconsin clinics.
Quality and medical labs
- Helping You Identify Quality Laboratory Services (PDF, 39 KB). Although you can’t always choose the lab where your tests are processed, this checklist from the Joint Commission can help you judge the quality of the lab your clinic or physician uses. The Joint Commission is a nonprofit organization that evaluates health care quality and safety.
- Quality Check is a service offered by the Joint Commission that lets you look up medical laboratories by name or location.