Bedside manner in the Live Free or Die state

Bedside manner in the Live Free or Die state

From the Associated Press:

A judge has ordered the [New Hampshire] state Board of Medicine to stop disciplinary proceedings against a doctor accused of telling a patient she was so obese she might only be attractive to black men and advising another to shoot herself following brain surgery.

A 2001 complaint accused [Dr. Terry] Bennett of telling a woman recovering from brain surgery to buy a pistol and shoot herself to end her suffering. The doctor was also accused of speaking harshly to a woman about how her son might have contracted hepatitis, according to the ruling.

This guy is an extreme version of a fairly common phenomenon: docs who are insensitive and rude to patients. I especially resent it in physicians who are dealing in life and death situations where patients are clinging to their every word, like in the case of my father in-law’s oncologist who made a number of insensitive and hurtful comments that were way out of his domain.

The idea behind “patient experience” and quality ratings is to provide prospective patients with information about how well a physician interacts with patients and how good the medical outcomes are. These two things are not completely independent.

In the absence of rich data experience and quality data at the doctor-level it’s necessary to resort to other means. “Patient experience” I can assess directly or by speaking with other patients.

Quality is a little harder to judge. For primary care physicians I try to find out from specialists about the quality of the referrals they provide (for example, a pediatric cardiologist I know was very impressed that our pediatrician had identified a minor abnormality and referred the patient on). For specialists, the best way I know is to ask the fellows in the hospital who work with them. They generally know who is under and over-rated.

Of course this kind of technique depends on knowing people in the system, which not everyone does. And it’s anecdotal, even in the best case.

I’m guessing from the article that Dr. Bennett is a PCP. He does sound like a jerk (although I don’t assume that his comments have been reported accurately). But if specialists told me he was good at diagnosing problems that others miss I wouldn’t necessarily rule him out to be my doc.

July 7, 2006

One thought on “Bedside manner in the Live Free or Die state”

  1. Disciplinary proceedings?

    If this guy is really such a jerk, patients will stop going there.

    You don’t have to be a capitalist Kool-Aid drinker to grasp the concept.



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