Doctors interrupting patients when they are telling their “story” can negatively impact care and outcomes. In fact, studies show that, on average. doctors interrupt patients just 12 seconds into their opening statements describing their symptoms and issues – both in emergency departments and in primary care offices.
Not only do doctors interrupt patients soon after they start talking, in many cases doctors prevent patients from completing their story. In one study, only 23% of patients were given the chance to finish their opening statement describing their concerns.
It is dismaying to learn that doctors frequently don’t have the time and/or inclination to listen to their patients’ statements or stories.
Why is it important for doctors to let patients speak uninterrupted?
Telling your whole story can help your doctor diagnose and treat you. It’s been said that somewhere between 70% – 90% of medical diagnoses are made based on the patient’s story, so simple math tells us that not being able to tell our stories can impact our diagnoses.
When doctors (and other medical professionals) interrupt patients, patients can easily lose their train of thought, causing them to leave out important details. And when a doctor takes control of the conversation and steers patients to another topic, this could move the focus of the appointment in the wrong direction.
Shockingly, research shows that up to 30% of the time doctors completely miss why the patient is even there!
Why do doctors interrupt patients so quickly?
Doctors see many patients each day, squeezed into a tight time schedule, which can cause them to rush. When a doctor thinks he/she has heard enough of the patient’s story to dictate next steps, he/she may interrupt to move things forward or redirect the conversation.
Of course, communication habits play a role as well. There are some people who just cannot resist the urge to interrupt – doctors included!
How long would patients speak if given a chance?
Many doctors fear that if they don’t interrupt their patients, the patients will go on for an excessive amount of time, putting even more pressure on the doctor’s already tight schedule.
However, that is likely not a well-founded fear. One study found that patients spoke for an average of 92 seconds when they were not interrupted. Additionally, the research found that 78% of patients had finished their initial statement in two minutes. Only a small percentage talked for longer than five minutes.
What can you do if your doctor interrupts you?
Prepare and persist.
- Before you go to the doctor, write out your narrative story. What symptoms are you experiencing? When? What are you doing when it occurs? How is it impacting your life?
- At the beginning of your appointment, make sure you tell your doctor why you are there and what your goals are for the appointment.
- Refer to your written notes while telling your story. If your doctor interrupts you, get back on track.
- If you think your doctor is veering in the wrong direction, speak up. For instance, you could say “I hear you focusing on my stomach, but what is really bothering me is my head.”
For more tips on how to get the most out of your medical appointments, read my blog posts:
- 10 Tips to Communicate Better with Doctors.
- What is the Best Time of Day for Medical Care?
- 10 Tips for a Better Medical Appointment.
- How Can You Get the Best Healthcare? Actively Participate!
- 6 Tips to Better Manage Your Care.
- Is Doctors’ Stress and Burn-Out Something Patients Should Care About? Yes!
- Understanding Medical Information Is Harder Than Most Realize.
- Communication Gap Among Doctors.
- Why Take Detailed Notes at Doctor Appointments?