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Non-verbal clues guide doctor-patient relationships, clinical judgments, U-M study finds
Date:9/25/2011

ANN ARBOR, Mich. Subtle and unspoken clues exchanged by patients and doctors exert an influence on medical care, according to a new study by the University of Michigan Health System. Researchers analyzed video recordings of routine checkups and conducted follow-up interviews with participants to help elucidate signals sent and received on both sides of the examination table.

The method shows promise for improving medical decision making by allowing doctors to better understand how they make judgments and what messages they may be unwittingly conveying to patients, the researchers explain.

The study found that patients relied on non-verbal clues to evaluate the doctor-patient relationship, focusing on whether the doctor seemed hurried or put them at ease. Doctors, on the other hand, reported that patients' tacit clues influenced their medical judgments. The results were published Sept. 26 in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice.

"Our findings show that both doctors and patients identified tacit clues involving the behavior or appearance of the other, but they were not always able to articulate precisely how these clues informed their judgments and assessments," says lead author Stephen G. Henry, M.D., a research fellow at the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System and Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan. "Not surprisingly, patients and doctors discussed these clues very differently."

The study is exploratory and did not examine whether the clues led to better or worse judgments.

Tacit clues might include non-verbal behaviors such as body language, eye contact, physical appearance, and tone of voice. Other factors, such as how frequently the patient was seen in the clinic, might also inform judgments.

One important study finding was that some doctors appeared to be far more conscious than others of the non-verbal messages they send to patients, says Henry. Jus
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Contact: Ian Demsky
idemsky@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System
Source:Eurekalert

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