June 26, 2007

Shut Up and Heal

A NYT story today highlights a study that found that doctors are very chatty about themselves when they are taking care of patients.

If you’d told me that alone I would have figured that they were just trying to put their patients at ease and get through the day pleasantly. However, the research shows that the chatty doctors are not very focused on their patients.

To their surprise, the researchers discovered that doctors talked about themselves in a third of the audio recordings and that there was no evidence that any of the doctors’ disclosures about themselves helped patients or established rapport.

It paints a picture of self-absorbed doctors yammering on all day about themselves, trapped in some sort of disassociated fugue. Is that an overstatement? Not according to the researchers’s assessments of some of the interactions:

“We found that the longer the disclosures went on, the less functional they were,” Dr. Beckman said. “Then the patient ends up having to take care of the doctor and then the question is who should be paying whom.”

The researchers studied the conversations looking for any hint that patients were helped when the doctors talked about themselves.

“We looked for any statement of comfort, any statement of appreciation, any deepening of the conversation,” Dr. Beckman said.

They found none.

Perhaps this is something to keep in mind when evaluating your doctor. I can’t remember this happening to me (at least, not with my current doctors). I have had dentists and hygienists who had this tendency, but luckily, none of our doctors. And especially our children’s specialists have always spent extended amounts of time talking to us, always about our concerns.

If you know more about your doctor than your mailman, maybe it’s time to think about getting another doctor.

Posted by James at June 26, 2007 12:15 PM
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How odd! I've never had a doctor talk about himself before.

Sometimes the hygienist does, but I think that's to avoid awkward silence as I drool all over myself.

There was this one hygienist (named Jean, who thought it was funny when people said "hi, Jean") who cleaned my teeth on election day in 2004. I was a captive audience with an iron hook in my mouth while she blathered on about how she voted for Bush because it was so important for the country to rediscover its moral values.

I've asked for "the other hygienist" ever since. The one I usually get now is much better about asking yes/no questions.

Posted by: Julie at June 26, 2007 2:56 PM

I think some people put up with blathering doctors because they're nervous about seeing the doctor.

Posted by: James at June 26, 2007 3:13 PM

Perhaps that's it. I usually show up with a list of questions. The doctor is lucky to be able to get a word in edgewise about anything else. :)

Posted by: Julie at June 26, 2007 3:17 PM

I remember one morning I had an appointment with a new orthodpaedist in Fall River because my knee was making a funny noise or something. This is when I was running longer distances and I was paranoid about my body breaking. I woke up with a UTI, and my stupid primary care office in New Bedford wouldn't prescribe an antibiotic over the phone and wouldn't let me do the test in Fall River because they have a lab in New Bedford. "Just come in." But first I had to get through the orthopaedist. He kept me for four agonizing hours, primarily talking about himself. There was an x-ray and an exam in there, but mostly I was learning far more about this idiot and his racist ideas about parenting than I ever wanted to know.

I have a friend who's a nurse and is familiar with the gastroenterologists and orthopaedists in the area. After I told her I went to him, she said, "DON'T let him operate on you." Fortunately that wasn't an option (I have good running knees, according to the idiot). She said that all of his cases are "complicated." In other words, he's a crappy doctor.

Yeah, I figured that out.

Posted by: Maggie at June 26, 2007 4:41 PM

I think I remember that one, Maggie. Was he the one who was complaining about a certain kind of "element"?

Posted by: julie at June 27, 2007 9:54 AM

Well, you know how bad my memory is... I'm not sure. He was talking about sending his kid to a private school, but then getting him into hockey so he'd be "tough." A different doc of mine, who I also wish would keep his mouth shut, said that special needs kids should just be called "dummies," and shouldn't get all that funding. *sigh* Why weren't we all born as smart as the doc? Silly us.

Posted by: Maggie at June 28, 2007 7:11 AM

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