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Soc Sci Med. 2002 Nov;55(10):1871-85.

Inter and intra individual variations in physicians' verbal behaviour during primary care consultations.

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  • 1Department of Medicine and Public Health, Section of Psychiatry, University of Verona, 37134, Verona, Italy.


It is well established that most medical interviews in primary care are characterised by a scarcity of patient-centred interventions and a predominance of doctor-centred behaviours. Less information is available on the intra- and inter-individual variability between the physicians' use of these categories. The study aimed to examine the impact of physician, physician's attribution of emotional distress, patients' GHQ-12 status and gender on the frequency of doctor and patient-centred verbal behaviours. A matched pair design involved six General Practitioners (GPs) and 238 patients. GPs'speech was classified using nine main categories derived from the Verona medical interview classification system (VR-MICS/D). Frequencies of the behaviours were calculated as percentages of total utterances per interview. Parametric and non-parametric ANOVAs were performed with GHQ-12 score, GP attribution of psychological distress, gender, and the six GPs as main factors. GPs varied in their use of the various interviewing behaviours. GHQ-12 status had no impact on GPs' interview behaviour, while GPs' distress attribution was associated with an increase of closed psychosocial questions and a decrease of closed medical questions. Within comparisons showed that each GP tended to change very little and only as a function of attribution: four out of six GPs increased closed psychosocial questions with patients they thought to be distressed. Patients' gender did not significantly alter GPs' interviewing behaviour. The variability in the use of specific verbal behaviours among GPs indicates a highly individualised approach and the lack of a common interview strategy. The fact that GPs' interviewing styles did not change according to patient characteristics, such as emotional distress, but only according to attribution further indicates that GPs untrained in communication techniques tend to use a predominant doctor-centred approach to the medical interview.

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