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Listening to Patients Fully Saves Time

Patients Need Less Than 2 Minutes to Describe Ailments to Doctors

WebMD Health News

Sept. 26, 2002 -- Patients could tell doctors about their ailments in two minutes or less if they were allowed to talk uninterrupted, a study shows.

The study, led by Wolf Langewitz, MD, of the department of internal medicine at University Hospital in Basel, Switzerland, revealed most patients, when allowed to speak spontaneously at the beginning of an appointment, needed only 92 seconds, on the average, to voice their medical complaints.

In hopes of saving time, doctors in the U.S. usually interrupt after 22 seconds, studies have shown.

Doctors do not risk being swamped by their patients' complaints, says Langewitz, but they should listen until that list of complaints is complete.

During the three-month study, 335 patients were asked to describe what was wrong with them. The doctors discreetly used stopwatches to time the initial conversation and had been previously trained to use active listening techniques such as nodding or echoing patient concerns. In order not to overextend their appointments, the doctors were instructed to allow patients to speak up to five minutes, at which point they should interrupt. None of the patients exceeded this limit. Seventy eight percent of the patients were done within two minutes.

The authors conclude that doctors do not risk overextending their time in the clinic if patients are allowed to speak spontaneously.

Other findings, which appear in the Sept. 28 issue of the British Medical Journal, indicate that sex and social status did not affect talking time, but older patients tended to speak longer. -->

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