Study Says Phrasing Matters When Doctors Ask Questions

There are certain factors that obviously affect a doctor’s ability to care for patients. Such factors include a doctor’s knowledge, experience and qualifications. However, a recent University of Connecticut study indicates that how doctors speak to us can also affect their ability to treat us.

The study was aimed at determining how much the phrasing of medical questions by doctors influences the quality of responses by patients. The study found that certain methods of phrasing by doctors generate much better and more detailed patient responses. This would be expected to improve patient care, as better responses would likely reduce the chance that a doctor would make a mistake or fail to diagnose a problem.

The researchers who conducted the study came to several conclusions as to how doctors could maximize the effectiveness of questions to patients. First, they said that doctors should try to avoid using general words like “pain” and rather use more descriptive terms in their questions.

Also, they stated that doctors should avoid interrupting patients when they are answering a question. Additionally, they claimed that doctors should avoid using questions that sound more like social questions. Finally, they said that doctors should focus on asking open ended questions.

One hopes that doctors will pay attention to this study and try to learn from its lessons. When we go to a medical professional, we expect them to do everything they can to keep us healthy. Yet it is possible that how they are phrasing their questions could be preventing them from doing just that.

Source:, “Tell me where it hurts,” Tim Stobierski, 10 Nov 2010

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