A doctor's attitude could directly affect patients' health.
Researchers reviewed 13 clinical trials that determined doctors who had taken classes to improve their people skills were more likely to encourage their patients to "lose weight, lower their blood pressure, or manage pain," HealthDay reported.
"It's important to be able to demonstrate that clinicians can learn to change how they interact with patients, and that it affects health outcomes," Alan Christensen, a professor of psychology at the University of Iowa who did not participate in the study, told HealthDay. "I think that intuitively, people think that if you have an open, caring relationship with your provider, that's beneficial," Doctor Helen Riess, the senior researcher on the new study, told HealthDay.
In order to make their findings the researchers looked at trials with "hard outcomes" such as a change in blood pressure. The "people skills" classes encouraged qualities such as "warmth" and empathy," as well as "motivational interviewing," HealthDay reported.
The researchers are not sure exactly why better people skills caused an improvement in these medical endeavors. Patients have different views on what it means to have a "good relationship" with one's doctor.
"People clearly differ in how much information they want," Christensen said. "Some people want greater self-management, and see it as having more control. Some people see it as a burden. Some people like being asked about their personal life, beyond their health condition. Some don't."
The research shows that the "provider-patient relationship" is extremely important in patient health.
"Patients need to understand that it's OK to look for a doctor who meets your preferences and expectations," Christensen said.
"If you're unhappy, there are polite ways to speak up," Riess said. "Patients should feel empowered to say, 'I didn't understand that language you used. Can you explain it in laymen's terms?' You can tell (your doctor) if you feel rushed or anxious."