Researchers to Docs: Shut Up!

In the past, physicians have been criticized for not spending enough time with their patients. In fact, many alternative and complementary medicine websites have used this research to promote themselves.


Alternative medicine has quietly jumped into the mainstream. By 1993, one in three people have used at least one alternative therapy and $14 billion was spent on those therapies according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Half of all U.S. medical schools teach about mind-body connections; alternative medicine is now offered at Georgetown and Columbia University.

Why the surge in interest? Many Americans find alternative approaches to be less expensive, with fewer side effects. Some feel that modern medicine is blind to the connection between mind and body. For others, the human touch is the real appeal. According to one source, the average doctor interrupts his patient 12 to 14 seconds after the patient starts talking. It is hard to feel cared about in that kind of environment. The alternative practitioners tend to spend time with their clients and actually listen to them.

Well, now there is research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine stating that physicians are "wasting" time of patients by talking about themselves during office visits (WebMD).
Researchers sent a group of actors posing as new patients to primary care doctors and found a third of doctors made unprompted comments about their own health, personal life, or political views. The vast majority of those comments (85 percent) weren't viewed as useful or relevant to the patient.

While a good bedside manner is important, researchers say that in an era of ever-shortening office visits doctors should keep the conversation focused on the patient.

"We found that physician self-disclosures were often non sequiturs, unattached to any discussion in the visit, and focused more on the physician's than the patients' needs," write researcher Susan H. McDaniel, PhD, of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, and colleagues in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"Longer disclosures, both not useful and disruptive, interrupted the flow of information exchange and expended valuable patient time in the typically time-pressured primary care visit," they write.

This study is actually kind of funny to me. I like to establish a rapport with my patients, and that sometimes means talking about me. The "time-pressured primary care visit" phrase particularly strikes me as funny.

I believe at the core of Family Medicine is relationships - relationships with my patient and relationships with my patient's family. I admit that sometimes the banter I have with patients may not directly relate to their medical visit, but I still think it's good medicine - despite what these researchers say.