NYU's Abramson said, "It's very nice to have a doctor that you love and who puts an arm around you, but not if that doctor makes bad medical decisions.
"Compassion is important but compassion without competence is not a virtue."
A doctor may see up to 30 patients a day. But every visit -- no matter how short -- is an opportunity to show empathy, Abramson said.
"Smile, put your hand on somebody, look in their eyes -- don't stare into your computer as you take notes," Abramson said. "You're in the life of someone that comes in for 20 minutes. Ask about their home life, their support structures."
Mitchell said she appreciates when a doctor asks about her job and health insurance situation, too, both of which play into the decisions she makes.
And at the end of an appointment, a doctor should make sure things are clear, said Mitchell, speaking from decades of diabetes treatments.
"They should take just a minute to ask: Does that make sense to you?" she said. "Not just write a script with one foot out the door."