Soliciting the patient's agenda: have we improved?

JAMA. 1999 Jan 20;281(3):283-7. doi: 10.1001/jama.281.3.283.


Context: Previous research indicates physicians frequently choose a patient problem to explore before determining the patient's full spectrum of concerns.

Objective: To examine the extent to which experienced family physicians in various practice settings elicit the agenda of concerns patients bring to the office.

Design: A cross-sectional survey using linguistic analysis of a convenience sample of 264 patient-physician interviews.

Setting and participants: Primary care offices of 29 board-certified family physicians practicing in rural Washington (n = 1; 3%), semirural Colorado (n = 20; 69%), and urban settings in the United States and Canada (n = 8; 27%). Nine participants had fellowship training in communication skills and family counseling.

Main outcome measures: Patient-physician verbal interactions, including physician solicitations of patient concerns, rate of completion of patient responses, length of time for patient responses, and frequency of late-arising patient concerns.

Results: Physicians solicited patient concerns in 199 interviews (75.4%). Patients' initial statements of concerns were completed in 74 interviews (28.0%). Physicians redirected the patient's opening statement after a mean of 23.1 seconds. Patients allowed to complete their statement of concerns used only 6 seconds more on average than those who were redirected before completion of concerns. Late-arising concerns were more common when physicians did not solicit patient concerns during the interview (34.9% vs 14.9%). Fellowship-trained physicians were more likely to solicit patient concerns and allow patients to complete their initial statement of concerns (44% vs 22%).

Conclusions: Physicians often redirect patients' initial descriptions of their concerns. Once redirected, the descriptions are rarely completed. Consequences of incomplete initial descriptions include late-arising concerns and missed opportunities to gather potentially important patient data. Soliciting the patient's agenda takes little time and can improve interview efficiency and yield increased data.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family Practice / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Medical History Taking
  • Office Visits
  • Patient-Centered Care
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • United States