A new study suggests chatty doctors who talk about their personal life during office visits may be wasting patients' valuable time.

Researchers sent a group of actors posing as new patients to primary care doctors and found a third of doctors made unprompted comments about their own health, personal life, or political views. The vast majority of those comments (85 percent) weren't viewed as useful or relevant to the patient.

While a good bedside manner is important, researchers say that in an era of ever-shortening office visits doctors should keep the conversation focused on the patient.

"We found that physician self-disclosures were often non sequiturs, unattached to any discussion in the visit, and focused more on the physician's than the patients' needs," write researcher Susan H. McDaniel, PhD, of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, and colleagues in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"Longer disclosures, both not useful and disruptive, interrupted the flow of information exchange and expended valuable patient time in the typically time-pressured primary care visit," they write.

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Chatty Doctors Waste Time

In the study, researchers analyzed the transcripts of 113 visits between the actors posing as new patients and 100 primary care providers.

The results showed doctors talked about themselves in about 34 percent of the visits, most often when he or she was taking a medical history or gathering information about the patient before a physical exam.

Only 10 percent of these self-disclosures were in response to a patient's question, and the conversation returned to the patient's topic in only about one in five cases.

"Only three physician self-disclosures (4 percent) were coded as useful -- providing education, support, explanation or acknowledgement or prompting some indication from the patient that it had been helpful," write the researchers.

In addition, 11 percent of the personal chitchat was considered disruptive and detracted in some way from the doctor-patient relationship. These instances included when the doctor talked about himself or herself for an extended period of time, inadvertently competed with the patient, requested the patient's support, or expressed personal or political viewpoints that did not take the patient's perspective into account.

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This article was reviewed by Louise Chang, MD.

SOURCE: McDaniel, S. Archives of Internal Medicine, June 25, 2007; vol 167: pp 1321-1326.