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UK GPs are good listeners, study reveals

GPs in the UK defy the ’12-second interruption’ myth by listening to patients’ complaints for longer, an audit published in the BMJ has revealed.

Rather than the 12 seconds often quoted, the audit found that experienced doctors in Britain wait an average of 51 seconds before interrupting their patient.

The study says that Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, claimed at an RCGP conference in 2014 that doctors have been known to interrupt patients within 12 seconds.

But the BMJ report, published today, states that the 12-second interruption in fact applied to doctors in the US, not in the UK.

There is, however, a ‘strong training effect’ as British GPs in their first two years of training are quicker to interrupt patients – after an average of 36 seconds.

According to the report, benefits of listening to patients include avoiding errors in diagnosis, ensuring consultations are complete and preventing ’late arising complaints’.

Dr Avril Danczak, a GP and primary care medical educator in Manchester who led the audit, praised the approach of the GPs analysed.

She said: ‘These British GPs hardly interrupted at all, and they mostly allowed their patients to complete their opening statements, which usually took less than a minute. This is likely to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of their consultations.’

The audit reports that even if doctors wait longer before interrupting patients, the consultation will not necessarily be longer overall.