Background: The value of physician self-disclosure (MD-SD) in creating successful patient-physician partnerships has not been demonstrated.
Methods: To describe antecedents, delivery, and effects of MD-SD in primary care visits, we conducted a descriptive study using sequence analysis of transcripts of 113 unannounced, undetected, standardized patient visits to primary care physicians. Our main outcome measures were the number of MD-SDs per visit; number of visits with MD-SDs; word count; antecedents, timing, and effect of MD-SD on subsequent physician and patient communication; content and focus of MD-SD.
Results: The MD-SDs included discussion of personal emotions and experiences, families and/or relationships, professional descriptions, and personal experiences with the patient's diagnosis. Seventy-three MD-SDs were identified in 38 (34%) of 113 visits. Ten MD-SDs (14%) were a response to a patient question. Forty-four (60%) followed patient symptoms, family, or feelings; 29 (40%) were unrelated. Only 29 encounters (21%) returned to the patient topic preceding the disclosure. Most MD-SDs (n=62; 85%) were not considered useful to the patient by the research team. Eight MD-SDs (11%) were coded as disruptive.
Conclusions: Practicing primary care physicians disclosed information about themselves or their families in 34% of new visits with unannounced, undetected, standardized patients. There was no evidence of positive effect of MD-SDs; some appeared disruptive. Primary care physicians should consider when self-disclosing whether other behaviors such as empathy might accomplish their goals more effectively.