Science Says Your Doctor Doesn't Really Listen to You

Drop this on your physician when he tries to usher you out of the room.

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If you've ever explained your ailment to your doctor and gotten the distinct feeling that he or she was spacing out and impatiently waiting for you to finish, you might not just acting paranoid. A new study published in the  Journal of General Internal Medicine has found that only one in three doctors give patients an adequate amount of time to describe their condition, and patients only get an average of 11 seconds to speak before being interrupted by their physician.

Researchers got these results by videotaping and analyzing the first few minutes of consultations between 112 patients and their doctors at various clinics around the U.S. Only 36 percent of patients were allowed to state their reason for coming, and those who did were interrupted 70 percent of the time. Those who were not interrupted generally summarized their complaints in about six seconds—which might encourage you to craft a brief testimony next time you go for anything other than a routine check-up.

Primary care physicians generally allotted more time for their patients to explain their issue than specialists, presumably because specialists have already been briefed on the reason that the patients are there. Still, given how expensive healthcare is in the U.S.—and how beneficial it might be to get all the facts—it's not exactly cheering to know that doctors are in such a rush to get you out of there.

"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," said Naykky Singh Ospina, an Assistant Professor in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at the University of Florida and the lead author of the study. "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. Yet, it seems rather unlikely that an interruption, even to clarify or focus, could be beneficial at the early stage in the encounter."

It's no small wonder that, according to a recent study, 35 percent of all diagnostic errors are made not in the hospital but in the doctor's office. And according to another study, 20 percent of patients with serious conditions are misdiagnosed by their primary care doctors. (Yikes!) And for more about MDs, check out the 20 Things Your Doctor Is Likely to Get Wrong.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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