Physicians have favorite patients, but don’t play favorites

New research indicates doctors have favorites among their patients, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

An analysis of 25 physician interviews conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that “physicians like the majority of their patients, but a majority like some more than others,” according to an announcement accompanying the study’s release.

Favorite patients did not tend to be the most compliant or those whose personalities complemented those of their doctors, but rather patients who ended up building a deep relationship with their physicians over a long period of time, or those who had severe enough illnesses to require that they see their physician frequently. These findings reinforce the significant benefits patients can derive from a consistent usual source of care, says the study’s leader, Joy Lee, Ph.D.

Better doctor-patient relationships offer widespread benefits to all stakeholders in the healthcare equation, from improved patient outcomes to reducing physician burnout and increasing patient loyalty to a given practice, according to previous reports by FiercePracticeManagement. While physicians in the study acknowledged having favorite patients, they also reported taking care to ensure they continued to treat all their patients fairly and that they respect the boundaries of a professional relationship, especially with regard to social media use.

That balance makes the phenomenon benign at worst and beneficial at best, according to Albert Wu, M.D., a senior author on the paper, who points out that it’s good for physicians to recognize this tendency, as it allows them “to avoid playing favorites, which is different than having favorites.”

These findings further underscore the need for healthcare policy that supports greater access for patients to regular providers, particularly for low-income patients who tend to see a variety of providers or head to the emergency room for care, according to the study announcement.

- here’s the study
- read the announcement