The third person in the room: frequency, role, and influence of companions during primary care medical encounters

J Fam Pract. 2002 Aug;51(8):685-90.


Objective: We wanted to characterize patient accompaniment to medical encounters and to explore the rationale and influence of the companion on the primary care medical encounter.

Study design: This was a descriptive study.

Population: Academic general internal medicine physicians, patients, and patient companions participated.

Outcomes measured: We measured the frequency of waiting and examination room companions, the reasons for accompaniment, the influence on the encounter, and the overall helpfulness of the companion as assessed by patients and companions. We also determined the physicianamprsquos assessment of the companionamprsquos influence, helpfulness, and behavior during the encounter.

Results: Companions were in the examination room for 16% of visits; 93% were family members. The rationales for waiting and examination room companions were to help with transportation, provide emotional support, and provide company. Examination room companions helped communicate concerns to the physician, remember the physicianamprsquos advice, make decisions, and communicate their own concerns to the physician. Patients believed that examination room companions influenced 75% of medical encounters, mainly by improving communication between physician and patient. Physicians agreed that examination room companions favorably influenced physician and patient understanding (60% and 46% of encounters, respectively). Patients indicated that waiting and examination room companions were very helpful for 71% and 83% of visits, respectively.

Conclusions: Companions frequently accompany patients to their primary care medical encounters. They are often family members, and they assume important roles in enhancing patient and physician understanding.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Communication
  • Family
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Office Visits*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Primary Health Care