Background: During doctor-patient interactions, many messages are transmitted without words, through non-verbal communication.
Aim: To elucidate the types of non-verbal behaviours perceived by patients interacting with family GPs and to determine which cues are perceived most frequently.
Design of study: In-depth interviews with patients of family GPs.
Setting: Nine family practices in different regions of Poland.
Method: At each practice site, interviews were performed with four patients who were scheduled consecutively to see their family doctor.
Results: Twenty-four of 36 studied patients spontaneously perceived non-verbal behaviours of the family GP during patient-doctor encounters. They reported a total of 48 non-verbal cues. The most frequent features were tone of voice, eye contact, and facial expressions. Less frequent were examination room characteristics, touch, interpersonal distance, GP clothing, gestures, and posture.
Conclusion: Non-verbal communication is an important factor by which patients spontaneously describe and evaluate their interactions with a GP. Family GPs should be trained to better understand and monitor their own non-verbal behaviours towards patients.