Physicians give patients 11 seconds to explain reasons for visit before interrupting

On average, patients have 11 seconds to explain the reasons for their visit before physicians interrupt, according to a recent study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

A group of researchers led by Naykky Singh Ospina, MD, of the University of Florida in Gainesville analyzed the first few minutes of tape recorded consultations between 112 patients and their physicians in various U.S. clinics during physician training sessions.

In 36 percent of the reviewed visits, patients were able to outline the reasons for their visits first. However, patients who had the  chance to explain their symptoms were still interrupted seven out of every 10 times within an average of 11 seconds from when they started speaking.  Uninterrupted patients took an average of six seconds to explain their concerns.

The researchers also determined that primary care physicians allowed patients more time to list their aliments with fewer interruptions than specialists. According to Dr. Singh Ospina, specialists often skip the introductory agenda-setting step since they already know why a patient has been referred.

"However, even in a specialty visit concerning a specific matter, it is invaluable to understand why the patients think they are at the appointment and what specific concerns they have related to the condition or its management," Dr. Singh Ospina said in a news release.

Issues such as time constraints, inadequate training on patient communication and physician burnout may be influencing physicians' interruptions.

"Our results suggest that we are far from achieving patient-centred care," Dr. Singh Ospina concluded.

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