At the Doctor's Office: Enough About You, What About Me?

June 27, 2007

Ever feel that you learned more about your doctor during a basic office visit than your doctor learned about you?

A new study shows you’re not alone. Researchers who set out to discover the value, if any, of physician self-disclosure discovered that though doctors talked about themselves in a third of the 113 audio recordings made by pseudo-patients, there was no evidence that these conversations led to a better rapport with patients.

Rather, it appeared that many doctors lose their focus and waste their patients’ time when they talk about themselves. Some of the researchers discussed the findings with The New York Times:

“I think all of us on the team thought self-disclosure is a potentially positive aspect to building a doctor-patient relationship and that we ourselves were quite good at it,” said Susan H. McDaniel, a psychologist who is associate chairwoman of the department of family medicine at the University of Rochester and lead author of the study.

“We were quite shocked,” Dr. McDaniel added. “We realized that maybe not 100 percent of the time, but most of the time self-disclosure had more to do with us than with the patients.”

Dr. Howard B. Beckman, medical director of the Rochester Individual Practice Association and an internist and geriatrician who was an author of the study, analyzed conversations before and after the doctors started talking about themselves.

“I’d been saying for many years that disclosure was a form of patient support,” Dr. Beckman said. “If someone says, ‘I have a problem,’ and you say, ‘I understand because I have it, too,’ that would be comforting.” But, he added, “in truth that never happens.”

The study was published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The abstract is available without registration.

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