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Comment & Response
July 4, 2017

Physicians Interrupting Patients

Author Affiliations
  • 1Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, Rochester, Minnesota
  • 2University of Florida, Gainesville
JAMA. 2017;318(1):93-94. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.6493

To the Editor Mr Mauksch highlighted how interruptions during the medical interview, which are commonly perceived as disrespectful, can sometimes be helpful by allowing patients and clinicians to work together.1 However, we believe that the timing, more so than the type of interruptions, deserves further attention.

The studies by Beckman and Frankel2 in 1984 and by Marvel and colleagues3 in 1999 explored how frequently clinicians explicitly asked their patients about their main concerns and how long they listened to their patients’ stories before interrupting. These studies, performed 15 years apart, found that, when given an opportunity to tell their story, patients are commonly and quickly interrupted. However, we agree with Mauksch that, when done tactfully and with the patient’s best interests in mind, some interruptions can be helpful at guiding a clinical interaction during certain parts of the visit. The most striking finding of these studies, however, is not the type, the goal, or even the ultimate effect of the interruptions. It is the fact that after asking patients to express their concerns, physicians were able to listen to patients’ stories for a median of only 18 to 23 seconds before interrupting in some fashion.2,3