CanMeds Communicator
Gathering information

Gathering information

The Medical interview

The medical interview is used to gather information about a problem and also about patients beliefs, concerns, expectations and illness experience.[11] Research around the medical interview reveals some interesting facts!

Did you know that...

  • Only 1/4 of patients completed their opening statement[1][2]

  • Doctors frequently interrupt patients, this often prevents patients from disclosing all of their health problems. Residents have been found to interrupt patients every 12 seconds[3]

  • Patient-centred consultations were only one minute longer than physician-centred consultations [4]

  • Without specific questions from physicians, the patient’s perspective on the illness (concerns, etc.) surfaces spontaneously in only about 1/4 of medical interviews[5]

  • Female residents interrupted their patients less often than did male physicians [3]

  • Residents interrupted female patients more than male patients[3]

  • Better non-verbal communication skills are associated with significantly greater patient satisfaction[6]

  • Female physicians participated in more psycho-social discussion, emotionally focused talk and positive talk[7][8]

  • Nine out of 10 patients do not receive good explanations on proposed treatments or tests[9]

  • 86 % of interview closures are initiated by the physician[10]

  • In 21% of closures, new problems arise that were not mentioned earlier in the visit[10]




Are you surprised by some of the facts stated above? Which statements surprised you?


What are some areas where you feel you could improve your communication skills? How will you do this?


All of us have unique abilities that we bring to the medical interview. What are some of your strengths when gathering information from a patient? Do you have any tips or special techniques that you have used yourself?


1. Beckman and Frankel, 1984. Beckman HB, Frankel RM: The effect of physician behaviour on the collection of data. Ann Intern Med. 1984;101:692.

2. Marvel MK, Epstein RM, Flowers K, Beckman HB. Soliciting the patient’s agenda: have we improved? JAMA, 1999; 282(10):942-3.

3. Rhoades DR et al. “Speaking and interruptions during primary care office visits.” AO.Fam Med. 2001;33(7):528-32.

4. Abdel-Tawab, N, Roter D. "The relevance of client-centered communication to family planning settings in developing countries: lessons from the Egyptian experience." Soc.Sci.Med. 2002;54(9):1357-68.

5. Lang, F et al. "Sequenced questioning to elicit the patient's perspective on illness: effects on information disclosure, patient satisfaction, and time expenditure." Fam.Med. 2002;34(5):325-30.

6. Griffith C, Wilson J, Langer S et al. House staff non-verbal communication skills in standardized patient satisfaction. J of Internal General Medicine. 2003;18:170-4.

7. Roter D, Hall J, Aoki Y. Physician gender effects in medical communication: A meta-analytic review. J of Am Med Assn. 2002;288:756-840.

8. Bylund C, Makoul G. Empathic communication and gender in the physician- patient encounter. Patient Educ & Counselling. 2002;48:207-216.

9. Braddock CH, Edwards KA, Hasenber NM, Laidley TL, Levinson W. Informed decision-making in outpatient practice. JAMA. 2000;282(24):2313-20.

10. White J, Levinson W, Roter D. ‘Oh, by the way’: The closing moments of the medical interview. J Gen Intern Med. 1994;9:24-8.

11. The facts below are from a document produced by Dalhousie medical school "Five Basic Tasks of the Medical interview" Accessed May 11, 2010

All references for this section