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Doctor, are you ignoring me?

A doctor in Bosnia takes time to check for tumours in his patient's neck

(Keystone Archive)

Doctors should spend more time listening to their patients and interrupt them less, according to a study by Basel's University Hospital.

The Swiss researchers found that patients are often denied the opportunity to share valuable information with their physician.

On average, patients get only 30 seconds to let their physician know what is bothering them before being interrupted, the study director, Dr Wolf Langewitz, told swissinfo.

Doctors say that they stop their patients because they talk too long.

"Physicians are afraid of being swamped by their patients' complaints and so they dare not listen to them," Langewitz explained.

90 seconds

However, the study urges doctors to be more patient.

Contrary to a belief that patients would talk endlessly, it takes the average sick person just 90 seconds to air their aches and pains.

Physicians are advised to allow the patient to keep chatting until they indicate they want the expert to take the lead with a question like "doctor what are we going to do now?"

This will give them the chance to reveal important information that could actually save time.

"I think doctors can wait for patients to lay open their hidden agenda which might help prevent them from being asked relevant questions at the very end of the consultation when the patient is leaving which costs time and which normally is not properly addressed by the physician," Langewitz said.

Bedside manners

Langewitz hopes the study will encourage doctors to improve their bedside manners.

"Every physician knows that some patients go on and on and on and time is running out, destroying the morning's schedule."

What physicians need to do is distinguish between the "15-minute-talking-machine" with the average patient that takes 90 seconds.

"Hopefully if physicians believe our data, they will dare to listen more, and then they will see that patients don't take that long," he said.

swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin and Sally Mules

In brief

On average, patients get only 30 seconds to let their physician know what is bothering them before being interrupted.
The average patient needs only 90 seconds to inform their doctor of their aches and pains.
Physicians in the study found that patients imparted important information.

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