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It's the way you tell 'em

MagazineNovember 2002 (Vol. 13 Issue 8)It's the way you tell 'em

Doctors are not renowned for their communication skills

Doctors are not renowned for their communication skills. In fact, shouting and barking seems to be the favoured method of talking to those irritating folk known as patients.

Unfortunately, those who bark the most are more likely to be bitten by a patient, a new study has found. No matter how serious or petty the misdemeanour, the aggressive, bullying doctor is much more likely to be landed with a malpractice suit.

By comparison, the doctor who has a soft voice and who appears to be sympathetic is likely to get away scot-free, even if his mistake is far more serious than that of his bullying colleague (Surgery, 2002; 132: 5-9).

So, for doctors reading this column, here is the right and wrong way of relating bad news. The right way: 'I'm awfully, terribly sorry, but I appear to have cut off the wrong leg. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.' The wrong way: 'You there, hop it - on the wrong leg.'

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