7 Key Traits of the Ideal Doctor
A Good Attitude Goes a Long Way, Patients Tell Researchers
WebMD News Archive
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
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
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
- 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."
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:
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"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
Who Wants a Cold, Callous Doctor?
The study is the first of its kind, writes James Li, MD, PhD, in a journal
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
"Can healthcare really ever be high quality if the patient-physician
interaction is hurried, disrespectful, cold, callous, or uncaring?" Li