Patient satisfaction scores improve when doctors sit

Patient satisfaction, as I wrote previously, is being increasingly focused upon.

Doctors are often pressed for time, and appear rushed — which can potentially lead to unhappy patients.

I saw this small study showing that the simple act of sitting down while talking to patients can have a profound effect. Many doctors I know already do this, but now there’s some data to support sitting.

According to the study, performed at a University of Kansas Hospital, a physician documented 120 visits, half of which he conducted sitting, and the other half, standing:

The researchers found that [the researching physician] Arnold’s standing visits lasted an average of 1 minute, 28 seconds. The patients, meanwhile, thought the appointment lasted an average of 3:44.

When Arnold sat down, the average time spent seated was just over one minute, which was actually shorter than when he stood. But the patients thought he spent more than five minutes in the room.

Overall, patients thought Arnold spent 40 percent more time in the room when he sat down.

Furthermore, when patients were asked about the interaction, “the ones who saw the seated doctor ‘expressed greater satisfaction and a better sense of understanding of their condition,’ than those who saw the standing doc.”

So, maybe, while doctors continue to lobby for more time to spend with patients, they can help themselves simply by sitting down in the exam room.

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  • Nancy Evans

    My late father was an old fashioned GP whose patients adored him. He always sat during hospital visits and his patients’ roommates sometimes expressed envy that he spent so much time. When I started my nursing career, he shared this approach with me and I also found it to useful. Thanks for the validation; I wish my dad was around so I could share the study with him,

  • Brian Nash

    I read your posts virtually daily. I am a medical malpractice lawyer in the D.C./Baltimore area. I appreciate the good, practical advice you provide your colleagues. In fact, this blog became the topic of a blog I posted today on our website. Too many times patients seek out lawyers simply because they feel like the doctor just didn’t care or would not explain what happened when a bad outcome occurs. Keep up the good advice/posts! If more of your colleagues read and paid attention to such advice from you, my phone might just stop ringing as much.

  • Tom

    How about taking on a different strategy where by spending more time with a patient is a result, perhaps an externality.
    How about building a practice with a 5 year objective that 20% of total practice revenue comes from cash? It’s not that bazaar,, it’s much like it was in the 1950′s. You’ll be surprised.

  • jsmith

    Excellent advice. I’m going into an exam room right now and will sit down.

  • Drew

    Sometimes it is the simplest gesture that makes the biggest difference. I’ll have to pass this along to all of my medical school friends.

  • Anne Marie

    Another thing that’s important to patients, well, me anyway, is when the doctor addresses you by name when they enter the exam room. My oncologist of 3 1/2 years has never greeted me by name when he comes in. At first I thought he was avoiding a possible blunder of calling me by the wrong name. But he comes in with my chart in hand with my name on every page to remind him who I am. I guess he doesn’t realize the value of the gesture.

  • Nikolaos I. Kakavoulis, MD

    What a relief for physicians. It would seem to make sense that sitting and speaking with our patients would make them feel at ease. Thanks for the info!

    Nikolaos I. Kakavoulis, MD
    Founding Team, HealthLeap

  • Reta Russell Hougton

    The doctor sitting down and looking at me is comforting and makes me think this person is truly interested in me and helping me with this problem. I find it very unsettling when a doctor stands by the door to talk me. I am not sure if it is fear or dishonesty that this behavior imparts. They often run out the door before you can ask a question, which leaves me frustrated. I have called back to complain about such behavior from a doctor.
    I recently saw a surgeon for a gallbladder problem. This surgeon sat down and talked to me while I was dressed before asking me to disrobe for an exam. I thanked him and told him how much I appreciated him talking to me with my clothes on. I do not think doctors realize how difficult it is to talk to a stranger when you’re naked. He acted surprised by the comment.

    It is the simple things, like introducing themselves (especially first visits), greeting a patient, saying their name, male doctors talking to female patients while they are dressed and sitting down with a patient that mean so very much.

  • Doc D

    People (and doctors) who are in a hurry always look poised for movement or departure. They send a message that they are busy, and will soon need to get on to the next thing.

    Sitting down is another way of saying, “I’m not in a hurry, and we’ve got all the time we need to focus soley on your concerns.”

  • David

    Doctors give all indications of being rushed because they ARE rushed. This article provides a trick for not appearing rushed. It would be more sensible, though, to pay doctors for their time. Lawyers often get paid this way, and they rarely appear rushed.

  • Penelope

    Hey! A very good research and a well written blog about the said study. Makes me think about what patients are thinking if their doctors are talking with them while standing. Personally I want my doctor to talk with me while sitting. Makes me feel comfortable and listened to. Maybe this is one of the reasons why many people distrust doctors because they feel that their doctors are not listening to them.

  • The Happy Hospitalist

    I always sit. In fact, an even less “threatening” position is to sit even with the patient on one side or the other and face the same direction as them while you gently hold and squeeze their shoulder while you describe your plan for the day.

    It works like a charm. You’ll never get sued even if you’re the worst doctor in the world.

  • Paynehertz

    Interesting study, but am I the only one who notices the absence of a double-blind here? The doctor may have unconsciously been more abrupt or less communicative while standing then sitting. I should expect a doctor’s manner to have more impact on the encounter than his posture. But the fact some patients perceived that the doctor spent more time with them when sitting is interesting in itself.

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