Improving Physicians’ Bedside Manner: Saving Hospitals Dollars because it Makes Cents


By: William Ezzell
Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported on efforts by health care providers and educators alike to improve ways doctors communicate with patients. Following the scrutiny and reform of the health care industry over the past few years, many areas that previously received minimal attention have undergone significant review and innovation, including physicians’ bedside manner.
According to the Wall Street Journal, various studies concluded that breakdowns in doctor-patient communication significantly increase provider costs: roughly 40 percent of medical malpractice lawsuits allege wrongs in communication, namely informed consent. When physicians don’t listen to patients, they also miss critical cues, misdiagnose illnesses, and poor communication often leads to patients failing to follow orders after discharge. The costs also arise in the regulatory arena. Last year, Medicare began decreasing reimbursements to hospitals based on patient surveys, where patients rate how well doctors communicate information and the responsiveness of hospital staff. Low scores translate to reduced reimbursements.
Here in the Atlanta area, these alarming realities have already sparked efforts by providers and educators to reevaluate approaches to bedside manner. WellStar implemented new training for all physicians, emphasizing small issues such as teaching physicians to ask permission to enter rooms and explain what they are doing (and why) throughout the procedure. Similarly, Emory University revamped its curriculum a few years ago, assigning students to advisers who ensure communication topics are taught throughout medical school.
No matter how experienced the physician or professional, the new data and regulatory schemes necessitate that providers implement methods to continuously improve communication with patients. This could potentially save lives and indisputably reduces costs across the entire health care spectrum, in turn saving hospitals dollars, because it makes sense.