R-E-S-P-E-C-T Between the Patient and Physician

In her hit song, Aretha Franklin said, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me;” however, we have come to a time in our society when many of us do not know and understand the meaning of respect. According to Definitions from Oxford Languages, respect is “due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.”

Patients and Respect

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The question of respect bleeds into the discussion of the practice of medicine. Things have changed since Dr. Marcus Welby and Dr. Ben Casey ruled prime time television. The solo physician is not the only game in town anymore. Technology has given patients the gift of choice and the power to make their own decisions. Patients are now consumers with the ability to choose their medical providers and the type of desired care. Technology has had a huge impact on patient expectations and demands. The manner in which the doctor is approached can be troubling.

One study found that doctors are likely to make more diagnostic errors when dealing with a disrespectful patient than a neutral patient. In order to maintain medical services with quality and safety in mind and to avoid future untoward malpractice claims, doctors must take steps to manage the patient.

In his book, Clinical Methods, Steven A. Cohen-Cole suggests a three-function model to deal with difficult or disrespectful patients:

Changing the patient’s behavior. If a patient is disrespectful by exhibiting rude behavior to the staff, arriving late for appointments on a consistent basis, or not showing up for appointment times, these issues can be met by advising the individual of “patient policies.” A discussion with each new patient will confirm requirements as it pertains to visit etiquette. Usually this interaction helps to promote better behavior.

Gathering information to find the source of the issue. Communication is important. One never knows what an individual’s motivations or issues are unless a meaningful conversation occurs to unravel the mystery. Patients want to be heard. This exchange can open an opportunity for trust and garner a mutual respect between the patients and the doctor. 

Dealing with the patient’s emotions. The important thing to remember is that bad behavior on the part of the patient shouldn’t be met by retaliation or frustration in return. It is natural for the doctor or staff to feel defensive in return, but instead it is helpful to acknowledge the patient’s frustration and work out a plan to come to a mutual agreement regarding the issue.

Physicians and Respect

When Hippocrates (460-370, BC) penned his famous oath, he established principles ensuring that doctors practiced medicine with the highest of standards and respect in mind.

Maintain a positive attitude toward the dignity and value of others

Remain nonjudgmental toward diversity and the uniqueness of others

Ensure patient autonomy

Pay attention to codes of conduct

Maintain confidentiality and privacy

The benefits of mutual respect between the patient and the physician are many.

Communication garners trust. This trust allows the patient and doctor to work together to come to agreements that will result in maximum medical improvement.

Positive satisfaction surveys occur as a direct result of excellent outcomes due to open communication and collaborative approaches to treatment plans.

Patients who enjoy a positive experience with their physicians refer their friends. Now, the doctor has become the “provider of choice” and likely to benefit by welcoming many new patients.

When there exists open communication and trust between a physician and patient, even if there was an untoward error or miscommunication that resulted in a negative outcome, the patient is less likely to file a complaint or lawsuit.

“So, it goes both ways. Medical providers and patients must work together in a climate of mutual respect, with the patient being on an equal playing field with the provider,” says Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC: Inspirations from Nurse Keith.  

Gwen Spence is Assistant Vice President, Membership Services for CAP. Questions or comments related to this article should be directed to GSpence@CAPphysicians.com.