How's Your Bedside Manner, Doc?

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We’ve all heard of the proverbial doctor who does a great job but doesn’t have great bedside manners. Hopefully, none of you have been subject to a visit to your doctor’s office with an experience like that.

The problem with some doctors is with all the specialized schooling and knowledge they acquire, they often also gain a superior and less-than-respectful attitude toward mere civilians.

This can, and unfortunately sometimes does, result in an office visit that may resolve any medical issues but also leaves you feeling aggravated and insulted. Follow along as I describe a typical visit to a doctor’s office:

You show up for your scheduled appointment, right on time. The receptionist has you sign in on the patient log and then has you fill out a clipboard full of other papers you already filled out during your last visit.

After thumbing through year-old Today’s Modern Yachtsman, American Home Quilting or some other dog-eared magazine you would never consider reading in any other situation, the doctor’s assistant calls you back.

First, she has you step on the scale, and it is always 20 or so pounds higher than what you thought it would be.

She mutters under her breath “Hmm,” and jots something down on your chart. You are pretty sure she had a tiny little disappointed headshake going, but you can’t be sure.

When you say excitedly, “Let’s try it again. I know I can do better!” she gives you a sad little smile and says “That’s not necessary, let’s step right in here.” As she leads you into the examining closet — I mean room — she says, “Have a seat please,” and then she opens up your chart and starts thinking intently about what she is reading.

She mutters, “It looks like your weight is up a couple pounds. Try to watch that, OK?” You reply with a lie, “Yeah I just started my new diet today.”

“Open wide,” she says while proceeding to stick a wooden tongue depressor so far down your throat you feel like a circus sword-swallower. You know they are fresh one-use sticks, but you imagine you can still taste the faint remnants of grape Popsicle and start to wonder where exactly they get these sticks?

Next, she wants to check your blood pressure. On goes the cuff around your arm.

“Its gonna’ squeeze a little, nothing to worry about,” you hear.

As she puts her stethoscope on your arm under the lip of the cuff and looks at her watch, she starts to pump up that cuff like it’s an Olympic sport or something. At first, it’s not unpleasant. Then it starts to get a little tight, “I don’t remember it being that tight last time, but no big deal. I can handle it,” you say to yourself.

As she makes a studious face and watches the dial, she keeps pumping that thing like she’s operating the bilge pump lever on the doctor’s previous yacht — the one that finally sank. Her casual recommendation, “Just relax,” has the exact opposite effect on you.

Now you’re beginning to think you know it is not possible to squeeze any live human being’s arm that much without turning your fingers into little blood-shooting squirt-guns and your thoughts are suddenly filled remembering that new lube tech trainee from last year, who thought the word full would be at the top end of the scale of the tire pressure gauge and just kept on filling up that tire. As your mind races and you imagine the horrible image of your arm looking like poor shredded tires, she finally releases the valve and the cuff mercifully loosens up, allowing normal blood flow throughout your arm again.

Very casually she says, “Your blood pressure is a little high.”

You think, “Oh really? No kidding! A little high! Of course it is! If my arm was made of coal, you would have just turned it into diamonds!”

Of course, she hasn’t asked you a lot of questions yet and now she wants to check your temperature. And then she asks you all the questions she needs to know, which you mumble out as best you can with the thermometer stuck under your tongue.

After asking a bunch of other questions and writing copious notes down in your chart, she stands abruptly, smiles and says, “The doctor will be right with you!”

Apparently, “right with you” means at least 15-20 minutes in medical jargon. After you have finished reading all the wall-charts in the examining room given to the doctor from his suppliers, you have come to the conclusion that you do indeed probably have gout, as well as hoof-rot and something especially scary called “the grip.”

While you are rifling through the cabinets looking for latex gloves, you hear the doctor rustling around outside the door for a few seconds, conveniently giving you enough time to get back on the butcher paper, plastering your best, “Who, me?” innocent look on your face.

The doctor walks in and gives his best smile and warmest greeting, with his mouth full of gleaming white, perfectly straight and very-expensive looking teeth — teeth that you are convinced you paid for about 90 percent of over the last couple of years.

He is much more pleasant than that mean old assistant of his. No medieval torture devices for your arms, no Abu Ghraib-style, enhanced examination techniques.

He asks a few innocuous questions: How’re the kids? The job? Are you sleeping OK? You’re cutting down on the smoking, right? And then, he hands you a prescription, tells you how often to take them and says he will check that mole on your back again on the next visit. He then smiles and walks out.

So, how could the doctor give you a prescription for a specific condition, without even asking you any pertinent questions, let alone examining you in any way?

Oh, he looks in your ear with that little pointed flashlight, but that is just a ploy to make you think he’s actually doing something. Do you ever wonder why the assistants and nurses can use every piece of equipment in the office except for the ear-cone flashlight? Could that actually be the single piece of diagnostic equipment that requires the most skill of them all? I think it just makes them feel special.

OK, all joking aside, the kernel of truth in the above humorous story is that the doctor doesn’t really need to ask you any information because all the info he needs to make a decision is in your chart.

He did go to school for eight years — or longer — to learn how to read symptoms, determine diagnoses and prescribe treatments.

If he wanted to, he probably wouldn’t even have to actually come into the examining room and talk to you at all. He is probably perfectly capable of looking at the particulars on your chart, combined with the info the assistant just gathered, and making a perfectly accurate and reliable diagnosis and treatment prognosis, all without ever actually seeing the patient.

But how would that make you feel? That is where the term bedside manner comes in. The doctor has two patients every time you come in, your body and your mind.

He uses his schooling and years of training in medical knowledge to treat your body, and he uses his bedside manner to treat your mind. He must possess skills in both areas if he is to enjoy a long and successful career as a popular and well-liked doctor.

Likewise, if you want to be consistently successful in your role as a lube shop manager, operator and/or owner, then you must possess an effective bedside manner with your customers, too.

Being a skilled and accurate technician is not enough in our business. If all you aspire to be is a great vehicle mechanic and have little or no interest in the customer-service portion of the business, then you are in the wrong business.

A successful and popular quick-lube facility requires skillful employees and management, but that skill must be two-fold in equally excellent amounts.

You must be a good technician, possessing the skills to correctly perform various services. However, you must also possess a great bedside manner and have the ability to talk to your customer without talking down to them or making them feel like their opinion is unimportant.

Talking in encouraging and positive tones and accentuating the positive aspects of doing a service is the primary detail that builds confidence in you and your recommendations for your customers.

Skills with the car aren’t good enough. You must have people skills, too.

Get to work. Make it happen.

See ya’ next month!

KIT SULLIVAN is a partner in a multi-unit, Florida-based quick lube company. A 20-year veteran of the industry, Sullivan has more than 28 years experience in sales and management training. He is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers. He can be reached via email:

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