Studies have shown that doctors interrupt or redirect patients within the first half minute of talking. I’m just as guilty. I fear that if I don’t quickly home in on the top priorities, the patient will ramble on ad infinitum.
How long, I’ve sometimes wondered, would my patients actually talk if I didn’t say anything at all?
According to a group of Swiss researchers, when doctors did not interrupt, the average duration of their patients’ monologues was 92 seconds. Not exactly the deluge of historic proportions that most physicians fear. But, well, you know the Swiss — reserved, diplomatic, precise. Maybe Swiss patients lack the American gene for self-referential gab.
The day after reading that study I tried it out in my clinic. For each patient I saw, I quietly clicked on a stopwatch after saying, “How can I help you today?” My first patient took 37 seconds, the second 32. But these were basically healthy individuals. The third had more issues: unresolved back pain, plus his glucose, cholesterol, and weight were all creeping up. He took two minutes.
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