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Ann Emerg Med. 2004 Sep;44(3):262-7.

Resuscitating the physician-patient relationship: emergency department communication in an academic medical center.

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Health Services Research Group, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.



We characterize communication in an urban, academic medical center emergency department (ED) with regard to the timing and nature of the medical history survey and physical examination and discharge instructions.


Audiotaping and coding of 93 ED encounters (62 medical history surveys and physical examinations, 31 discharges) with a convenience sample of 24 emergency medicine residents, 8 nurses, and 93 nonemergency adult patients.


Patients were 68% women and 84% black, with a mean age of 45 years. Emergency medicine providers were 70% men and 80% white. Of 62 medical history surveys and physical examinations, time spent on the introduction and medical history survey and physical examination averaged 7 minutes 31 seconds (range 1 to 20 minutes). Emergency medicine residents introduced themselves in only two thirds of encounters, rarely (8%) indicating their training status. Despite physician tendency (63%) to start with an open-ended question, only 20% of patients completed their presenting complaint without interruption. Average time to interruption (usually a closed question) was 12 seconds. Discharge instructions averaged 76 seconds (range 7 to 202 seconds). Information on diagnosis, expected course of illness, self-care, use of medications, time-specified follow-up, and symptoms that should prompt return to the ED were each discussed less than 65% of the time. Only 16% of patients were asked whether they had questions, and there were no instances in which the provider confirmed patient understanding of the information.


Academic EDs present unique challenges to effective communication. In our study, the physician-patient encounter was brief and lacking in important health information. Provision of patient-centered care in academic EDs will require more provider education and significant system support.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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