Verbal and non-verbal behaviour and patient perception of communication in primary care: an observational study

Paul Little, Peter White, Joanne Kelly, Hazel Everitt, Shkelzen Gashi, Annemieke Bikker, Stewart Mercer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

BACKGROUND: Few studies have assessed the importance of a broad range of verbal and non-verbal consultation behaviours.

AIM: To explore the relationship of observer ratings of behaviours of videotaped consultations with patients' perceptions.

DESIGN AND SETTING: Observational study in general practices close to Southampton, Southern England.

METHOD: Verbal and non-verbal behaviour was rated by independent observers blind to outcome. Patients competed the Medical Interview Satisfaction Scale (MISS; primary outcome) and questionnaires addressing other communication domains.

RESULTS: In total, 275/360 consultations from 25 GPs had useable videotapes. Higher MISS scores were associated with slight forward lean (an 0.02 increase for each degree of lean, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.002 to 0.03), the number of gestures (0.08, 95% CI = 0.01 to 0.15), 'back-channelling' (for example, saying 'mmm') (0.11, 95% CI = 0.02 to 0.2), and social talk (0.29, 95% CI = 0.4 to 0.54). Starting the consultation with professional coolness ('aloof') was helpful and optimism unhelpful. Finishing with non-verbal 'cut-offs' (for example, looking away), being professionally cool ('aloof'), or patronising, ('infantilising') resulted in poorer ratings. Physical contact was also important, but not traditional verbal communication.

CONCLUSION: These exploratory results require confirmation, but suggest that patients may be responding to several non-verbal behaviours and non-specific verbal behaviours, such as social talk and back-channelling, more than traditional verbal behaviours. A changing consultation dynamic may also help, from professional 'coolness' at the beginning of the consultation to becoming warmer and avoiding non-verbal cut-offs at the end.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e357-65
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Issue number635
Publication statusPublished - 25 May 2015


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