How To Get Better Care from Your Doctor

Research shows kindness and gratitude impact quality of care

Aug 07, 2019

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  Want better care from your doctor? It’s as simple as just being nice and saying thank you, according to a new study in Pediatrics.

Trevor Foulk, a management professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, collaborated on the research. He has studied how incivility and rudeness affect performance in the workplace, but the study marks his initial look into the effects of treating others with respect and kindness.

Foulk and a team of researchers from Israel and the University of Florida staged simulations for doctors and nurses on 43 neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) teams from hospitals in Israel. They wanted to see how expressions of gratitude from newborn patients’ mothers and from medical experts influenced the treatment provided by teams. A panel of doctors and nurses observed the simulation participants to judge the quality of care they provided in the medical scenarios.

The study, which has been reported on by the Reuters news service, finds that the patients received more accurate diagnoses and treatment when their mothers expressed gratitude and kindness toward the medical team. But expressions of gratitude from medical experts had no impact on the care a patient received.

The researchers explain that expressions of gratitude from patients or their families likely seem more genuine than the same sentiments from experts or supervisors. Patients’ gratitude seems to motivate doctors and nurses to perform better and may make them feel better about the difference they are making in other people’s lives through the practice of medicine, even subconsciously, say the researchers.

“Medical personnel may not realize the tremendous effects that the expression of gratitude from family members may have on their own functioning,” write the researchers. “After all, their professional credo obligates them to make every effort to offer the best care possible, regardless of (and even in spite of) the response of family members. However, our findings indicate that while patient/family-expressed gratitude may not necessarily boost the motivation of medical personnel to provide high quality care, it does boost their collective ability to do so.”

But Foulk and his fellow researchers don’t suggest medical providers try to elicit expressions of gratitude from patients and families. Instead, they say providers should take time to interact more with their patients and families to find out more about their experience and how they felt about their care.

They suggest that medical systems might look into smartphone push technologies to to allow patients to more easily communicate with the teams caring for them, or other ways to increase feedback to lead to better patient care outcomes. But they acknowledge it will be a big shift for the health care industry:

“While the encouragement of gratitude and other small, positive interpersonal gestures may demand nothing short of culture change on the part of the medical community and those they serve, our findings suggest that the benefits may well be worth the effort,” they say.

Read more:Expressions of Gratitude and Medical Team Performance” is featured in the journal Pediatrics.




About the Expert(s)

Trevor Foulk

Dr. Trevor Foulk is an Assistant Professor of Management & Organization at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. He received his Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida, and his Bachelors of Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts.

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