Doctors Only Give Patients A Few Seconds To Describe Reason For Their Visit Before Interrupting, Study Shows

Doctors wait about 11 seconds before cutting off their patients, the study found.

If you want to get a message through to your doctor, you may need to talk fast.

A new study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that doctors only wait an average of 11 seconds to hear a patient describe their symptoms or the reason for their visit before interrupting. In the study, which looked at 112 patients and their medical practitioners over a seven-year period, researchers studied whether doctors let the patient set the agenda for the visit or asked open-ended questions to let them describe their symptoms and found that few actually do.

“After analyzing the results, they found that 36 percent of patients were able to set the agenda,” a report from the Atlanta-Journal Constitution noted. “However, they were interrupted 11 seconds on average after beginning their statements. Those who were not interrupted finished speaking after about six seconds.

These interruptions were not always harmful, the study’s researchers found. Sometimes the doctors were seeking more information or help guide the patient, though they could often derail a patient’s description.

“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,” co-author Singh Ospina said in a statement. “Yet, it seems rather unlikely that an interruption, even to clarify or focus, could be beneficial at the early stage in the encounter.”

This is not the first study to find that doctors are trying to limit their time with patients. In a 2014 report, the USA Today noted that doctors are becoming increasingly pressed for time due to insurance requirements or payment guidelines that stipulate they see a certain number of patients.

The report noted that primary care doctors frequently schedule patients in 15-minute intervals, while hospital physicians say they are often asked to see patients for only 11-minute visits.

“Doctors have one eye on the patient, and one eye on the clock,” David Rothman, who studies the history of medicine at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, told the newspaper.

A number of medical experts point to a 1992 law that use “relative value units” to calculate doctor fees. This system puts an average office visit at 1.3 units, USA Today noted, which is suggested to be a 15-minute consultation.

As the report noted, this system causes doctors to zero in on what they call the “chief complaint,” the primary reason for a patient’s visit, even though patients often have more than one reason for a visit.

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