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Examining the unspoken clues exchanged between patients and doctors

In an earlier post today, I highlighted a video of Abraham Verghese, MD, reinforcing the importance of the physical exam in modern medicine. So I was interested to read about findings published in the  Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice examining how non-verbal communication influences the doctor-patient relationship.

In the small study (subscription required), researchers analyzed video recordings of routine checkups and conducted follow-up interviews with participants. Data were collected from 72 video elicitation interviews involving 36 patients and 18 doctors, who were recruited from six different practices across southeast Michigan.

Among the findings was evidence showing doctors may be unknowingly conveying certain messages to patients through their body language and demeanor. Researchers found patients relied on unspoken clues to evaluate the doctor-patient relationship, focusing on whether the doctor seemed hurried or put them at ease.

Senior author Michael Fetters, MD, MPH, commented on the study in a University of Michigan release:

Our findings are consistent with research from the social sciences suggesting that doctors’ and patients’ judgments in the examining room are often complicated and take into account many subtle, unspoken clues. In the future, we hope this method of recording and reviewing these types of interactions can inform interventions designed to improve medical decision making and doctor-patient interaction by providing a more complete understanding of the kind of signals upon which doctors and patients rely.

Previously: Stanford’s Abraham Verghese discusses the power of touch and observation in the exam room, How horsemanship techniques can help doctors improve their artImproving communication between doctors and patients and Working to improve patient-doctor communication
Photo by National Institutes of Health Image Bank

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