Health Column: What makes a doctor a good doctor? |

Health Column: What makes a doctor a good doctor?

Phil Mohler, M.D.
Free Press Health Columnist
Doctor working on a digital tablet
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

For many years, my spiel to family docs in training has been that what patients really want is to be listened to. Our office patient surveys have consistently shown that a patient will A) wait 6 weeks for an appointment; and B) wait in a cold exam room for 45 minutes; but if the patient feels listened to during the visit, he/she will forgive and forget the frustrations and feel very positive about the visit as a whole.

In 2006, a study done at the Mayo Clinic asked 192 outpatients what traits they were looking for in a physician. They listed seven ideal physician behaviors. The ideal physician is:

Confident: The physician’s manner engenders trust.

Empathetic: The doctor tries to understand what the patient is feeling.

Humane: The doctor is kind and caring.

Personal: The physician is interested in the patient as a person.

Forthright: The doctor imparts what the patient wants and needs to know in everyday, easy-to-understand language.

Respectful: The physician takes the patient’s input seriously.

Thorough: The physician is conscientious.

These Mayo Clinic patients never mentioned technical competence — I suspect it’s not because they didn’t value technical skills, but simply because they were unable to evaluate them.

So what are you looking for in a physician? A good listener? An adept technician? A humanitarian with the traits of a Boy Scout?

Nobody has ever distilled our universal need better than Francis W. Peabody, M.D., who in 1927 in Boston pronounced, “ … for the secret of the care of the patient is caring for the patient.”

My Take: In 2014, it is more crucial than ever that we all have a caring primary care physician that we trust to help us navigate the frequently changing, often perilous, and always expensive seas of the health care system.

GJ Free Press health columnist Dr. Mohler has practiced family medicine in Grand Junction for 39 years. He has a particular interest in pharmaceutical education. Phil works part-time for both Primary Care Partners and Rocky Mountain Health Plans. Email him at

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