You go to doctors for one reason: To have them fix your health problems.
But physicians can’t help you if they don’t even take the time to listen to what your problems are.
And that’s exactly the case with most doctors, a new study finds.
In a troubling study, University of Florida researchers videotaped consultations between 112 patients and their doctors across America.1
One would expect doctors to start exams by trying to find what’s wrong with their patients. Perhaps they would ask a question like, “What brings you here today?”
But the study found that just 36% of doctors asked an opening question that allowed patients to describe their health issues.
You may think that’s not so bad. At least a third of the doctors are doing their jobs.
Even when doctors asked about health problems and patients tried to explain them, most doctors cut them off after an average of just 11 seconds.
Dr. Naykky Singh Ospina is an assistant professor in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at the University of Florida. She led the study.
“Our results suggest that we are far from achieving patient-centered care,” she said.
Specialists Listen Less Than Primary Care Doctors
Specialists were even worse. Only 20% gave patients the opportunity to describe their issue.2
Researchers noted that specialists may have less reason to ask about health problems since they may already know why a patient was referred to them. But that is no excuse, said Dr. Singh Ospina.
“Even in a specialty visit concerning a specific matter, it is invaluable to understand why the patients think they are at the appointment and what specific concerns they have related to the condition or its management,” she said.
The study recently was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
Don’t Let Your Doctor Give You the Bum’s Rush
The study authors suggest a few reasons why doctors aren’t listening to their patients:
- They don’t get enough training on communicating with patients.
- They might be suffering from burnout.
- They are overbooked. Their time is stretched so thin, that they can’t afford to fully listen to their patients.
What are the consequences when patients aren’t allowed to explain their health problems?
A Mayo Clinic study found that only 12% of patients are given a completely accurate diagnosis by their primary care doctor. About 20% of patients with serious conditions—like cancer—were told they had a completely different illness.3
A National Institute of Health study found that one-third of Alzheimer’s diagnoses were completely wrong.
If you think your doctor is rushing you, interrupt him or her. Calmly and clearly explain your health concern. Be assertive. Doctors work for you. And you are paying them to provide a service.
If you don’t feel you are getting good service, find another doctor.
You have another weapon to make sure you are getting the best care from your doctor…nurse practitioners.
Studies have found that nurse practitioners are actually better at simple diagnoses and treatments than doctors. That’s because they listen more closely and spend more time with patients.
Even on serious illnesses, nurse practitioners do as well as doctors. A 2015 study compared the diagnostic skills of doctors and nurse practitioners on complex medical cases. The study found no statistical difference between the nurses and doctors. What’s more, the nurses also equaled or bettered the doctors on proper suggested treatments.4
A nurse practitioner is a nurse with extra medical training. See if your doctor’s office employs one. Make him or her part of your healthcare team.5