Physicians Interrupting Patients

According to a new study, physicians only spend 11 seconds on average listening to patients before interrupting them. Also, only one in three physicians provides their patients with an adequate opportunity to describe their situation.

Those were the results of a study recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

The researchers analyzed the initial few minutes of consultations between 112 patients and their physicians, which were videotaped in various U.S. clinics.

In just over one third of the time (36 percent), patients were able to put their agendas first. However, patients who did get the chance to list their ailments were still interrupted seven out of every ten times and, on average, within 11 seconds of them starting to speak. Patients who were not interrupted completed their opening statements within about six seconds.

The typical interruptions by physicians were asking a closed-ended question (59%), followed by making a statement (30%), and using a re-completer (7%), or an elaborator (4%).

According to the study, primary doctors allowed more time than specialists and tended to interrupt less.
“If done respectively and with the patient’s best interest in mind, interruptions to the patient’s discourse may clarify or focus the conversation, and thus benefit patients,” said Singh Ospina, the principal investigator of the study. “Yet, it seems rather unlikely that an interruption, even to clarify or focus, could be beneficial at the early stage in the encounter.”