William Osler and the Importance of Bedside Manner, A Detailed Account from Gregory Duhon, MD

Much research in the healthcare field is focused on new and innovative ways to discover ailments early and to treat them with advanced practices and even emerging technologies. Yet, as Gregory Duhon, MD, explains, there's also a lot of valuable research being conducted into other areas of health care.

One such important area is physician behavior and bedside manner. William Osler, a 19th-century physician who wrote many essays on the importance of bedside manner, established what Gregory Duhon, MD, explains as a paradigm that has served as a model for how physicians should behave at the bedside.

Below are some lessons learned from William Osler and just how profound the impact of good bedside manner can be on not just the doctor-patient relationship but on actual patient outcomes as well.

Medicine is an Art

The practice of medicine is often categorized as science, yet in so many ways, it's an art form. Accomplished doctors need to develop a bedside manner that is supportive, empathetic, compassionate and humane.

That's because, while techniques have changed over the years, the basis of human nature hasn't. Patients can be afraid, anxious and even have self-pity when they arrive at an exam room, and it's the doctor's responsibility to provide patients hope and calm any fears they may have.

While medical students are taught bedside manner, they are not often taught it by people who possess those skills themselves. Some leading physicians, such as Jock Murray, a former dean at the Dalhousie Medical School, suggested that a new focus on three core principles of professionalism needs to be taught in medical schools — social justice, competency and the primacy of patient welfare.

These are all artistic skills to obtain, as physicians need to use them in creative ways to apply in a personal manner to each patient.

Medicine in William Osler's Time

William Osler practiced medicine at an exciting time in history. Before he came along, how doctors behaved was what convinced patients to trust them. What Osler and the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Medical School — at which he served as the first chief of medicine — did was integrate science into the practice.

Now, patients can refer to data and science to help them make medical decisions, rather than just relying on what the physician said. As such, good science eventually became the "preeminent requirement" of being a good physician, according to Gregory Duhon, MD.

Osler's bedtime manner was characterized as that of a Victorian gentleman, and it was effective.

How Bedside Manner Applies Today

The "Victorian gentleman" isn't very relevant in today's times; that sort of person wouldn't be very effective in communication or engendering confidence from patients. But, there's still a lot to be learned from William Osler and the contributions he made to bedside manner.

Osler was the ultimate communicator and integrated science into medicine. And while a lot of his focus was on the reliance on science, he was still very honorable and generous.

Schools and health facilities today can take cues from William Osler and encourage students and physicians to practice the true "art" of medicine. After all, bedside manner can have a profound impact on patient outcomes when combined with good science.

About Gregory Duhon, MD

Dr. Gregory Duhon, MD, is an Internal Medicine Physician and Hospitalist with acumen in ICU, emergency room, and crisis/pandemic management. Known for compassionate patient care, Dr. Duhon has donated volunteer time to provide medical care to flood victims and those affected by opioid addiction. Gregory Duhon is training for the Ironman and enjoys travel, cooking, and passion fruit propagation.