Study: Medical interns fall short on etiquette

Doctors-in-training are unlikely to engage in common courtesy behaviors such as introducing themselves fully to patients or sitting down to talk to them one-on-one, according to recent research from Johns Hopkins University.

The researchers monitored 29 internal medicine interns at Hopkins and the University of Maryland Medical Center for a three-week period in January 2012. They analyzed more than 700 inpatient encounters during 118 intern work shifts and noted whether the interns observed the five-step process known as etiquette-based communication: introducing themselves, explaining their role in the patients' care, making physical contact with the patient, asking open-ended questions like "How are you feeling?" and sitting down with the patient.

During these encounters, interns asked open-ended questions 75 percent of the time and touched patients in 65 percent of visits, according to lead researcher Leonard S. Feldman, M.D., an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and co-author Lauren Block, M.D., a former general internal medicine fellow at Hopkins.

However, interns only introduced themselves in 40 percent of visits, only explained their role in care in 37 percent of the visits and only sat down 9 percent of the time. Moreover, interns engaged in all five steps in only 4 percent of encounters.

Improvement in these areas is particularly important because research indicates etiquette-based communication can affect patient outcomes, according to Feldman.

"Basic things make a difference in patient outcomes and they're not being done to the extent they should be," Feldman said in an announcement. "These are things that matter to patients and are relatively easy to do."

An April study, also conducted at Hopkins, found medical interns spent almost as much time walking as they did at patients' bedsides, which researchers said could hurt the patient-doctor relationship, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the research announcement
- here's the study abstract