Doctors may be knowledgeable in treating physical diseases, but how good are they at making their patients feel better overall? Researchers from National Technology University (NTU) and Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) take on the study of communication between doctors and patient in a bid to improve medical services.

The research involved recording doctors interacting with first-time patients. The objectives of the study are to find out what helps patients be more receptive towards medical procedures,and how doctors can better communicate the importance of medical tests and address patients’ fears. Doctors need to also improve on identifying non-verbal cues and psychological fears.

Read the full article on BBC: Better bedside manners for doctors on the cards with NTU-TTSH study


This study brings into question the role of empathy in healthcare. (Read our previous Topic in Focus on Empathy.) A lack of empathy may lead to patients having difficulty trusting the doctor to provide the best care possible.

Positive communication from doctors has been observed to provide benefits for patients in terms of reducing anxiety and depression, better quality of life, and improvement in physical functioning. However, the risk of expecting doctors to exhibit empathy in their consultations at all times is doctors’ burning out. There is also a level of difficulty in balancing between empathy and clinical competence. This highlights the crucial need to exercise emotional boundaries and understand one’s limits.

The joint study is a laudable effort in improving the softer aspects of communication skills that medical professions should have.

Questions for further personal evaluation:

  1. Can you remember a time where you felt that a visit to a doctor made you feel good? What did the doctor do or say?
  2. What other professions would require empathy and communication skills?

Useful vocabulary:

  1. ‘pedestal’: a position in which someone is greatly or uncritically admired
  2. ‘fastidious’: very attentive to and concerned about accuracy and detail
  3. ‘austere’: severe or strict in manner or attitude
  4. ‘technocrat’: a member of a technically skilled elite
  5. ‘plethora’: a large or excessive amount of something

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