Malpractice insurance is one of the great deterrents to practising medicine in America. A study has shown that three minutes is all it takes. Doctors who get sued spend an average of 15 minutes with their patients while those who are never sued spend an average of 18 minutes.
But it's not the time, but how the time is spent that is the real difference. Doctors who are never sued are more likely to make orienting comments like, "First I'll examine you and then we will talk the problem over" or "I will leave time for your questions" which give patients an idea of what the visit about and when they ought to ask questions. Never-sued doctors engage in 'active listening', saying such things as "Go on, tell me more about that," and they were far more likely to laugh and be funny during the visit. On the other hand there was no difference in the amount of information conveyed.
The interesting thing is that the patients takes in the doctor's attitude within the first few seconds of the consultation. It all boils down to 'Does the doctor respect the patient?' The most corrosive tone of voice that a doctor can adopt is a dominant one. Patients have been known to sue the wrong doctor because they liked one (who had made the mistake) and despised the other (who was entirely innocent). The truth is that all doctors make mistakes but patients are only vindictive if the doctor has not formed a caring relationship with him or her.
I have this information from a book given to me by my older son who was visiting last weekend. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell examines first impressions and hunches. Our unconscious brain makes and early decision that is not available to our conscious thought until minutes, days or even weeks later. Most of us don't trust these first impressions and sometimes we are right not to. The book explores when we should override this censorship.