You're likely fairly prepared when you head to the doctor. You know what you want to talk about and maybe even made notes. But after a few moments, you see your doctor check her watch, glance at her computer and shift in her seat. Sound familiar?
Doctors spend an average of 11 seconds listening to you before they interrupt you, according to a new study. Researchers examined the first few minutes of 112 consultations between patients and their doctors. The visits were videotaped and occurred in clinics throughout the United States during training sessions for doctors.
The researchers noted whether doctors started the consultations with opening questions such as "How are you?" or "What can I do for you?" Then they made notes whether the patients were interrupted while answering such questions, as well as when and how.
Lead researcher Naykky Singh Ospina of the University of Florida, Gainesville, and the Mayo Clinic, and her team noted that only about a third (36 percent) of patients were able to start the conversation. They were still interrupted seven out of 10 times, just seconds after starting to speak. Only one in three doctors gave their patients enough of an opportunity to describe their concerns.
Primary care versus specialists
Patients will likely get more time to speak if they're at a primary care doctor's office versus a specialist's, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. A primary care doctor also tends to interrupt less.
According to Singh Ospina, specialists might skip the introductory questions because they already know why you're there for the appointment.
"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," Singh Ospina said in a statement.
How quickly and frequently a patient is interrupted also depends on the complexity of each patient's situation.
"If done respectfully 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," Singh Ospina said. "Yet, it seems rather unlikely that an interruption, even to clarify or focus, could be beneficial at the early stage in the encounter."
There are several reasons doctors might be hindered in providing an ideal patient-centered experience, say the researchers. They could be rushed due to time constraints, have limited education in patient communication skills, or may be experiencing physician burnout.
The researchers encourage more studies investigating patients taking the time to set their own agenda and how that could potentially affect the outcome of their doctor's visits.
"Our results suggest that we are far from achieving patient-centered care," Singh Ospina said.