The non-verbal language influencing judgements in doctor-patient relationship

Tone, eye contact, facial expressions and how we move our bodies can have an enormous impact on how we perceive a person’s interactions with us. Body language accounts for the majority of our communication and it’s not so much what we say, but how we say it.

In a study of the University of Michigan, some interesting findings emerged regarding how doctors and patients view each other. The lead researcher in the study, Dr. Michael Fetters, from the University of Michigan Medical School stated that the findings are similar to other studies done on patient/doctor relationships:

In the future, we hope this method of recording and reviewing these types of interactions can inform interventions designed to improve medical decision making and doctor-patient interaction by providing a more complete understanding of the kind of signals upon which doctors and patients rely.

Based on behavior, attitude, appearance and other subtle cues, patients view their doctors a certain way. For doctors, these faint cues coming from their patients can even influence the treatment prescribed.

Researchers found, after studying 18 doctors and 36 patients undergoing general checkups, that doctors took the appearance of the patient into account, even though the checkup was a routine visit. How they spoke and behaved was noted in order to check for possible depression.

Body language and non-verbal cues were watched to see if a patient may be leaving important information or avoiding answering certain questions. This can be a sign of possible addictions or disorders or even signs of abuse.

Patients judge doctors by whether they appear to be in a hurry, how much time they spend with them, and whether good eye contact is made. How comfortable a doctor made them feel also made a big impact.

If a patient is about to talk about something difficult, embarrassing or frightening, how a doctor behaves in the room can be the deciding factor on whether the patient can talk about it or not. First impressions last, and a patient can made these decisions within a minute or two or the doctor entering the room.



Written by

Graduated in Literature at the University of Eastern Piedmont, he's now studying anthropological and ethnological science at the University of Milano-Bicocca. Journalist and writer, he collaborated with many local newspapers and in the 2015 he published his first book "Qui non arriva la pioggia". In the 2017 published "Il peccato armeno, ovvero la binarietà del male".

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