Roberts, Lisa and Bucksey, Sally J.
Communicating with patients: what happens in practice?
Physical Therapy, 87, (5), . (doi:10.2522/ptj.20060077).
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Background and Purpose: Communication is the most important aspect of practice that health care professionals have to master. The purpose of this study was to measure the content and prevalence of verbal and nonverbal communications between physical therapists and patients with back pain.
Subjects: Seven physical therapists and 21 patients with back pain participated in this study.
Methods: The first interaction following the initial assessment was recorded with a video camera. The outcome measures were the Medical Communications Behavior System (verbal communication) and frequencies of nonverbal behaviors (affirmative head nodding, smiling, eye gaze, forward leaning, and touch). Semistructured interviews were undertaken with the physical therapists to determine the perceived influence of the video camera.
Results: A total of 2,055 verbal statements were made. Physical therapists spent approximately twice as much time talking as patients, with content behaviors (such as taking history and giving advice) comprising 52% of verbal communications. The most prevalent nonverbal behaviors were touch by physical therapists (54%) and eye gaze by patients (84%).
Discussion and Conclusion: The prevalence and content of communication can be measured with video analysis and validated tools. Communication is an extremely important but underexplored dimension of the patient-therapist relationship, and the methods described here could provide a useful model for further research and reflective practice.
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