What makes for an ideal doctor? Patients share their views in a new study.

The study appears in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. It’s based on nearly 200 patients treated at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona and Minnesota from 2001 to 2002.

In phone interviews with people who had no ties with the Mayo Clinic, the patients described their best and worst experiences with their Mayo Clinic doctors, with confidentiality guaranteed. The doctors seen by the patients came from 14 medical specialties.

The researchers -- who included Neeli Bendapudi, PhD, of Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business -- then checked the interview transcripts and spotted seven traits that patients favored in their doctors.

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What Made the List?

Here are the seven traits listed by the patients, along with the patients’ definitions of those traits:

--Confident: “The doctor’s confidence gives me confidence.”

--Empathetic: “The doctor tries to understand what I am feeling and experiencing, physically and emotionally, and communicates that understanding to me.”

--Humane: “The doctor is caring, compassionate, and kind.”

--Personal: “The doctor is interested in me more than just as a patient, interacts with me, and remembers me as an individual.”

--Forthright: “The doctor tells me what I need to know in plain language and in a forthright manner.”

--Respectful: “The doctor takes my input seriously and works with me.”

--Thorough: “The doctor is conscientious and persistent.”

That list isn’t in any particular order. The researchers didn’t check whether confidence was more important to patients than respectful treatment, for instance. The Mayo Foundation funded the study.

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What Didn’t Make the List?

The traits covered doctors’ behavior, not technical know-how.

That finding “does not suggest that technical skills are less important than personal skills, but it does suggest that the former are more difficult for patients to judge,” the researchers write.

They add that patients may tend to assume that doctors are competent unless they see signs of incompetence, the researchers add.

One patient put it this way in the study:

“We want doctors who can empathize and understand our needs as a whole person. … We want to feel that our doctors have incredible knowledge in their field. But every doctor needs to know how to apply their knowledge with wisdom and relate to us as plain folks who are capable of understanding our disease and treatment.”

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Who Wants a Cold, Callous Doctor?

The study is the first of its kind, writes James Li, MD, PhD, in a journal editorial.

Li works in the allergic diseases division of the Mayo Clinic’s medical school in Rochester, Minn. He notes that he would have liked to have seen more details on the patients who were interviewed, such as sex, race, and age. This information would be helpful since minorities and women have sometimes reported worse treatment from doctors than whites and men.

Still, Li says it’s natural for patients to want caring caregivers. He drafted a list of seven traits that are the opposite of those mentioned in the study:

Timid Uncaring Misleading Cold Callous Disrespectful Hurried

“Can healthcare really ever be high quality if the patient-physician interaction is hurried, disrespectful, cold, callous, or uncaring?” Li writes.

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By Miranda Hitti, reviewed By Ann Edmundson, MD

SOURCES: Bendapudi, N. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, March 2006; vol 81: pp 338-344. Li, J. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, March 2006; vol 81: pp 294-296. News release, Mayo Clinic.