Time pressure and digressive speech patterns in doctor-patient consultations

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Medicine counts among the oldest and institutionally best developed helping professions in Western societies. It finds itself characterized by a number of unique aspects, among which the increasing fragmentation of the medical sciences which in turn resulted in the “fragmentation of the patient” has been widely discussed. One of the most visible forms of fragmentation is the fragmentation of time in medical treatment represented by small time slots and long waits for the patients. Physicians, frequently blame verbose patients, who cannot easily be prevented from talking, for increasing scheduling problems. This contribution, however, will present some opposing results. On the basis of a quantitative and qualitative analysis of 268 transcribed medical interviews the findings indicate that it is not so much the patients’ psychic structure (“being talkative”) that protracts medical consultations, but rather the physicians’ interactional patterns. For medical education (in particular, and counseling settings in general) these results might be of considerable interest as they counter popular prejudices on patient behavior and might contribute to reshaping the doctor-patient relationship.


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