You Have 11 Seconds to Tell Your Doc What’s Wrong

That’s how long you typically have to tell your doctor what’s wrong with you before he or she interrupts you and possibly sidetracks the conversation, a new study shows.

“These findings are obviously concerning. We would like our physicians to listen for more than 11 seconds,” said study author Dr. Naykky Singh Ospina. She’s an assistant professor of endocrinology at the University of Florida.

That’s just one thing her team discovered: The researchers also found that doctors were able to find out the patient’s primary reason for the visit only about one-third of the time. The study authors noted that the medical interview is one of the key components of medicine. It helps to build a good doctor-patient relationship.

Although the study didn’t delve into the specific reasons for the interruptions or lack of finding out a patient’s agenda, the researchers said there are a number of factors that could play a role.

These include time constraints and physician burnout, because today’s physicians also have to navigate complicated and time-consuming health insurance issues. And for doctors trained before 2004, when physician training underwent a significant shift, a limited education in patient communication skills may also be a factor.

In the study, the researchers analyzed information from a random sample of 112 doctor-patient encounters from a study of 700 doctor-patient visits. The original study was done to test how well shared decision-making tools for treatments for chronic conditions worked. The patients visited doctors in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Sixty-one visits were with primary care doctors and 51 were with specialists. Forty-five doctors were female senior clinicians. Sixty-four patients were female.

The average visit lasted 30 minutes, the findings showed. The patient’s agenda was only identified in 36 percent of the visits. When the patient agenda was identified, the average visit lasted 35 minutes.

Primary care docs seemed to best specialty care physicians by a wide margin — nearly half of primary care doctors found out the main reasons patients were visiting. But only 20 percent of specialty care doctors did so. However, Singh Ospina said because the study sample was small, this difference didn’t reach statistical significance.