Female doctors spend more time with their patients and talk more with them, while male doctors tend to use harsher strategies with their patients, which sometimes lead to conflict. This conclusion arises from a new doctoral dissertation research conducted by Reut Shoham from Bar Ilan University’s psychology department. 211 community doctors (preliminary medicine and consultants) took part in the research, which was overseen by Prof. Joseph Schwartzwald. The doctors filled out questionnaires regarding their ability to manage conflicts with patients.
The research was supported by the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research. According to the study, there are many other variables besides gender which influence doctors’ behavior. For instance, doctors tend to take a more tolerant tone during conflicts regarding clinical issues, while being less tolerant during conflicts having to do with bureaucracy, such as standard procedures, renewing a subscription or patients wanting to see a doctor without an appointment.
“In some situations”, wrote Shoham, “a doctor would feel less powerful when facing a knowledgeable patient, and to compensate for that feeling, would act more forcefully towards that patient. Doctors who believed in the patient’s right for autonomy and participation in medical decision-making were more tolerant.”
Another aspect pointed out in the research is that sensitivity towards status affects doctors when dealing with patients. “Doctors are very sensitive to their status, as a result of the changes in their prestige over the years. Whenever a doctor feels his status is threatened, as a result of a provocative patient for instance, they will adapt more forceful strategies when dealing with said patient. When a patient asks a medical assistant for help, tries to ‘pull strings’, threatens with a lawsuit or undermines the doctors opinion with information they found online – it might provoke harsh behavior on the doctor’s side.”
The researcher also stated that veteran doctors tend to confront with their patients more often, as do doctors who studied abroad. Shoham recommended that while in medical school, students should learn methods of dealing with conflicts, “which are more common today, either as a result of budgetary limitations or due to the implementation of technologies which physically distance the doctor from their patients. Doctors should undergo special training to prepare them for dealing with possible conflicts with patients and adopting strategies that will make patients responsive rather than damaging the doctor-patient relationship,” writes Shoham.
Such training programs do exist in Israel. They are taught both at the Israeli Center for Medical Simulation and when training chief physicians.
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Photo by Mercy Health