How Personality Can Affect Patient Outcomes

Working in healthcare, in whatever capacity, means dealing with the people in a sometimes very personal level. We’ve all heard the phrase “bed-side manner” and when it comes to being a practitioner, it’s pretty important, but even more than we realize.

A recent Dutch study showed that having a good bed-side manner (i.e. having a calmer, relaxed, secure and resilient personality) actually improved patient outcomes.

The study, published in BioMed Central’s Health Services Research, compared rehabilitation outcomes from patients with chronic disease such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes along with how their own physical therapists scored on the personality test, “The Big 5” Index (BFI).

The test measures emotional stability, impulse control and the tendency to express unpleasant emotions. The lower the score, the calmer, more relaxed, secure and resilient the personality. The results of the study showed that patients with the worst outcomes were treated by physical therapists with higher scores on the personality test.

These results show that our way of being, how we interact with patients makes a big impact in how they heal. Anatomy, physiology and how to treat injuries are the main focus in education and certification (as it should be). However, there should be some support in how to have a bed-side manner that supports a patient’s rehabilitation.

5 Tips to Promote Positive Patient Outcomes

Educate: Most of the time, patient’s don’t have the extensive anatomy and physiology education and may not understand their own diagnosis/injury beyond what they found on Google. This can create a lot of tension and fear based on sometimes misinformation. Make sure to offer educational sources, resources and take the time to make sure your patient understands their problem and the rehabilitation road ahead.

Empathy: Some people have a fear or anxiety over anything medical. While others may have fear over an unexpected diagnosis or injury. Make sure to acknowledge these feelings when the patients express them. It’s not our job to make their feelings go away, but acknowledging their feelings when expressed helps make them feel well taken care of.

Take care of yourself: Make sure you have eaten, are hydrated, and have had enough sleep. More than that, make sure that you are feeling well emotionally too. As the study shows, negative emotions translate to patients, so make sure that you take your health just as seriously as you do your patients. The more you are well taken care of, the more you can take care of others.

Be present: Physical therapy sessions can sometimes seem to go fast. However, this can create a race-like feeling the patients experience when you’re running behind. Make sure to breathe evenly and deeply, make good eye contact and make sure you’re taking the time to talk through all aspects of the treatment that day.

Stay open: Stay open to new research, new technologies and new treatment options. For example, let’s say you hear about low level laser therapy for the treatment of TMJ, but haven’t tried it yet. After confirming research outcomes, patients appreciate when therapists are willing to try new things to improve their treatment outcome.

Physical therapists receive wonderful education and I haven’t met one yet who wasn’t driven by a genuine desire and passion for helping people. Creating a solid, caring bed-side manner helps highlight and express that desire to our patients and as research has shown is an important component in patient outcomes.