Patients more content, confident when doctors sit to talk

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Adding to previous research suggesting that doctors who sit when consulting with patients tend to build a better rapport and build patient confidence, a new study from researchers at the University of Kansas suggests that, when doctors sit during consultations, patients perceive them as being present longer and also express greater overall satisfaction with their medical care. To examine the difference between standing and sitting on patient perception, researchers studied the post-surgery consultations with 120 patients, half of whom spoke with a doctor who was standing, half, with one who was sitting. Researchers found that, across the board, regardless of posture, patients tended to perceive their doctors are spending longer by their bedside than they actually did. Yet, perception differed markedly when it came to standing versus sitting. While, on average, doctors who stood during consultations stayed for 1 minute and 28 seconds, patients estimated they’d been there for 3 minutes and 44 seconds. In contrast, while sitting doctors stayed an average of 1 minute and 4 seconds, patients estimated that they’d lingered longer than 5 minutes.

Researchers measured the actual time spent by physicians on a stop-watch, starting timing as the doctor entered a patient room, and stopping when he or she exited. When the doctor left, the researcher entered the patient’s room and asked how long he or she thought the doctor had been in. Thirty-eight patients who agreed to participate in an additional survey also expressed how they felt about the interaction with their doctor. For the 20 patients whose physician sat during a consultation, the comments were overwhelmingly positive (95%), with patients frequently expressing that they appreciated how “the doctor took the time to sit and listen.” In contrast, those who stood got positive reviews far less often (61%), and prompted more critical remarks, such as “I didn’t have time to ask the doctor any questions,” or, “He was in and out of my room before I even knew what was going on.”

While increasing patient satisfaction and comfort is a central priority, previous research suggests that the added benefit of improvements in these areas is that they can also lead to better patient compliance with doctor’s orders, lower levels of litigation and, as a result of both, a reduction in unnecessary costs. To that end, the study authors recommend that medical educators consider posture in lessons dealing with patient communication. They write: These findings should be considered by all health care providers as new ways of enhancing the patient care experience are developed. Along with other nonverbal and verbal communication, body posture is a conscious choice by a health care provider that can be learned and customized to fit particular patients in various clinical settings. A provider’s communication and interpersonal skills are a set of measurable and modifiable behaviors that can evolve. It is within a health care provider’s power to have a positive effect on patient’s satisfaction with the length and quality of the visit.”