How to speak up if you feel like you aren’t being fully heard by your physician
Doctors might not be the best listeners.
Patients only get about 11 seconds on average to explain the reason for their visit before getting interrupted by their doctors, according to a new study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Out of the 112 patient and doctor interactions videotaped and observed by researchers, only 36% of patients were asked about the reason they were there in the first place. And 27 out of the 40 (67%) who got a chance to explain why they were there got interrupted after just 11 seconds.
Rather than giving them a chance to fully express their concerns, researchers found that physicians commonly relied on assumed reasons patients were visiting based on their referrals. “When patients come to a visit, they are coming in with specific concerns and a problem,” Dr. Naykky Singh Ospina, the lead researcher of the study and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Florida, told Moneyish. “So as physicians, we should listen and let them tell their stories so we can collaborate and help them solve it.”
And studies in the past have shown the same poor communication trends between doctors and their patients. A similar 2001 study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that on average, patients spoke for 12 seconds after the doctor entered the room before being interrupted. And a fourth of the time, doctors interrupted patients before they finished speaking.
“We wanted to see if such results would change in a more contemporary study compared to the ones done decades ago,” Singh Ospina said. But despite advances in the medical field, physician communication has generally remained the same.
Singh Ospina attributes this lack of communication in part to the increasingly shorter consultation times and number of patients physicians need to see in a day. In 2016, the average number of patients physicians saw per day was 20.6, according to Statista. And primary physicians reported having a patient size (number of patients they had seen at least once) of 2,184 within an 18-month span, according to a 2012 report from the Medical Group Management Association. On average, meetings with doctors only last for about 20 minutes in the U.S., according to research from Reuters Health.
Other factors contributing to poor clinical encounters include power dynamics between doctors and patients that make patients nervous and therefore unable to clearly express the multiple concerns they have, Singh Ospina added. And because physicians feel that they have more expertise, they may not often leave room to allow their guests to speak.
But without proper communication, patients often run the risk of not having their concerns fully addressed. Here are a few things to do if you feel like you aren’t being heard by your doctor:
Prepare before your visit. Before arriving at the appointment, patients should think about and write down their main concerns, suggests Singh Ospina. “Think about it for a few minutes so that way, if your physician orients the conversation in a certain direction, you can express the things you have in mind,” she said. “If you get nervous, you can remember and feel confident that you can express your concerns adequately.”
Assert and reassert your concerns. If you are in the visit and don’t feel heard, make a statement reiterating the reason you’re there. “Although there can be a power difference, most physicians want to help their patients feel better,” Singh Ospina said. “So making a statement such as ‘The main reason I’m here is because I’m concerned about this…’ can be very helpful.”
Ask questions. Physicians may often be unaware that they’re not giving you room to speak, Singh Ospina pointed out — so asking questions is a great way to bring attention back to your concerns. “Even if you aren’t asked, most physicians will be receptive to it,” she said.
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