5 ways to manage talkative patients

Thursday, 3 Dec 2015


A group of doctors have revealed their secrets on how to manage chatty patients in a consultation.

Writing in Family Practice the group of General Practitioners interviewed a panel of GPs about the way they manage their more chatty patients while still maintaining a respectful approach.

Applying these strategies, they say, could mean that talkative patients are no longer regarded as ‘heartsink patients’, but rather as a challenge that doctors can confidently overcome.

Five ways to manage chatty patients:

  1. Understand the underlying cause of patients’ talkativeness – The cause could be an underlying emotion; for example a patient could be nervous, or lonely. “Nervousness is concealing the request for help. Some people are visiting you just to complain, while actually they do not ask for a solution.”
  1. Build up credit. Listen actively without interruptions as a way to ‘build-up credit’. If patients’ feel heard and understood it reduces the chances of a future interruption being interpreted as insulting or disrespectful.
  1.  Share responsibility. Give patients responsibility for time management by stating the time limit and asking which problem they think is the priority:“What I often do is to make it a ‘we problem’ by explicitly saying: ‘Today we have ten minutes scheduled. I know from experience that ‘we’ tend to end up chatting, so it would be a pity if ‘we’ spend too much time on that at the expense of the real reason for your visit.
  1. Empathic interrupting. An oft-employed strategy to smoothen interruptions is to acknowledge the importance of what the patient has to say. Knowing that the doctor takes the problem seriously enables patients to refocus their attention on the current problem.
  1. Use humour (if you have a long-standing relationship with the patient.) “I sometimes ask: ‘Alright, where is the button to switch you off? Be quiet for a change, will you.’ Yes, and then they laugh and the laughing causes them to be quiet for a little while, which allows me to seize my opportunity.” 

What strategies do you use? Tell us by emailing us at [email protected]

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