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Doctors Only Listen to Their Patients for 11 Seconds, Study Finds

Your doctors aren’t listening — and that’s a problem
doctors patients
istockphoto.com

Most doctors don't give patients enough of an opportunity to speak.

Do you ever feel like you’re being rushed at the doctor’s office? Or maybe you leave your visit feeling like despite the time you spent in the office and the lofty medical bill, your concerns were never really heard. You’re not alone — according to a new study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, only 36 percent of patients are given the opportunity to speak up about why they came in for their visit. The numbers were even slimmer for patients who went in for specialized care. Only 20 percent of specialty care doctors asked their patients what was wrong.

According to the study authors, this initial patient interview is crucial for providing “focused, efficient, and patient-centered care.” Without this communication, patients are often excluded from decision-making.

But even when doctors do ask why patients come in, they aren't listening for long. The study also revealed that even when they were asked about the reason for their visit, most patients only spoke for an average of 11 seconds before they were interrupted by their clinician.

Previous research shows that, when left uninterrupted, patients will talk about their symptoms for around 30 seconds to a primary care doctor and approximately 92 seconds during other types of care.

Researchers have known for some time that doctors don’t listen as often as they should. There was even an entire episode of the early 2000s sitcom Scrubs dedicated to this issue. But this study reveals that the window of opportunity for patients could be much narrower than previous studies found. In Scrubs, for instance, the TV characters read a statistic that doctors typically allow 15 seconds for patients to speak — not 11.

The researchers explain that the lack of time given to patients to talk might be explained by “time constraints, limited education about patient communication skills, or physician burnout.” Regardless of the reason, the authors of the study claim, “We are far from achieving patient-centered care.” They suggest that further research is needed to help solve the problem.

In the meantime, there are a few things that patients can do to ensure they’re being heard. Harvard physicians recommend arriving to your appointment early with prepared questions in hand. They also suggest bringing someone with you to ensure you’re communicating effectively. Don’t hold back any information — tell your doctor as many details as you can fit in the short time frame of your appointment. You don’t want to leave out any “small” symptoms that could actually be more dangerous!

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