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

By Christine Cupaiuolo — 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.

3 responses to “At the Doctor’s Office: Enough About You, What About Me?”

  1. Sometimes I think it’s good to hear about the doctor. It makes me like them or dislike them and if I like them, then I trust them, which is good. If I dislike them, I go find another doctor.

    Basically, if their self disclosure annoys me, it’s still helpful because it tells me I need a new doctor.

  2. None of the doctors I’ve been to have said anything about themselves unless I asked. My PCP talks about me the whole time I’m in there, and he always asks what’s going on with college, work, etc. I would think it was just fluffy crap to make me feel good, but he remembers what I tell him, so at least I know he’s listening.

  3. I usually like it when physicians tell me that they have the same problem. This was especially true with my psychiatrist who admitted that he also had depression. It made him more human, and it made me more willing to trust him.

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