Open-ended questions: are they really beneficial for gathering medical information from patients?

Tohoku J Exp Med. 2005 Jun;206(2):151-4. doi: 10.1620/tjem.206.151.


Open-ended questions, which allow patients to discuss their concerns freely, are widely considered an efficient method gathering medical information from patients during a medical interview. However, few studies have examined the relationship between the use of open-ended questions and the amount of information obtained from patients during the medical interview. This study examines this relationship using a relatively large sample size under more standardized conditions than in previous studies. The Japanese Group for Research on the Medical Interview undertook this research in 2002-2003. A total of 1,527 medical students conducted medical interviews with standardized patients, and 1,220 met the inclusion criteria for this study. The interview was limited to five minutes. Evaluators (medical school faculty physicians) evaluated the use of open-ended questions during the medical interview. The reliability of the evaluation sheet was also examined. The amount of information obtained was measured through the medical interview evaluation sheet. The use of open-ended questions was positively related to the amount of information elicited from the patients (F = 41.0, p < 0.0001). This study provides data to support the hypothesis regarding the favorable relationship between the use of the open-ended questions and the amount of information from the patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods*
  • Medical History Taking / methods*
  • Medical Records
  • Patients
  • Sensitivity and Specificity