Communication during ward rounds in internal medicine. An analysis of patient-nurse-physician interactions using RIAS

Patient Educ Couns. 2007 Aug;67(3):343-8. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2007.04.011. Epub 2007 Jun 5.


Objective: Describe the content and of mode of patient-physician-nurse interactions during ward-rounds in Internal Medicine.

Methods: In 267/448 patients, 13 nurses, and 8 physicians from two wards in General Internal Medicine 448 interactions on ward rounds were tape recorded by observers. After exclusion of interactions with more than three participants (N=150), a random sample of 90 interactions was drawn. Data were analysed with a modified RIAS version that allowed for the registration of a third contributor and for the assessment of the direction of a communicative action (e.g.: nurse-->patient, etc.). Furthermore, time spent per individual patient was registered with a stop-watch.

Results: A total of 12,078 utterances (144 per ward round) were recorded. Due to problems with the comprehensibility of some interactions the final data set contains 71 ward round interactions with 10,713 utterances (151 per ward round interaction). The average time allotted to an individual patient during ward-rounds was 7.5 min (range: 3-16 min). The exchange of medical information is the main topic in physicians (39%) and nurses (25%), second common topic in patients (28%), in whom communicative actions like agreement or checking are more common (30% patients/25% physicians/22% nurses). Physicians and patients use a substantial number of communicative actions (1397/5531 physicians; 1119/3733 patients). Patients receive about 20 bits of medical or therapeutic information per contact during ward-rounds.

Conclusions: If ward rounds serve as the central marketplace of information nurses' knowledge is under-represented. Further research should try to determine whether the quality of patient care is related to a well balanced exchange of information, to which nurses, physicians, and patients contribute their specific knowledge.

Practice implications: Given the fact that in-patients in Interna Medicine usually present complex problems, the exchange of factual information, expectations, and concepts is of paramount importance. We hope that this paper is going to direct the attention of the scientific community to the characteristics of ward-rounds because they will remain the central marketplace of communication in hospital.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Attitude to Health
  • Communication*
  • Continuity of Patient Care
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • Empathy
  • Humans
  • Inpatients / psychology
  • Internal Medicine
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / psychology
  • Nurse's Role / psychology
  • Nurse-Patient Relations*
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / psychology
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Patient Participation / methods
  • Patient Participation / psychology
  • Physician's Role / psychology
  • Physician-Nurse Relations*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Self Disclosure
  • Social Support
  • Switzerland
  • Tape Recording
  • Time and Motion Studies
  • Wit and Humor as Topic