Not long ago I entered an exam room and was met by a mother who immediately began talking. From the chaotic feeding to her sequence of formula roulette and the staccato of the baby’s cry, she delivered a near full history of present illness in the span of 45 seconds. And all with one breath.
While I was impressed with her delivery, I couldn’t keep up. So I interrupted her.
“Okay, hold on, we’ve got lots of time here. It sounds like your baby’s got lots going on and we’ve got lots to talk about.” Believing for days leading up to the appointment that she would only have three minutes with me, it was like a weight was lifted off her shoulders. We went on to spend 40 minutes talking face-to-face and scribbling at the whiteboard.
If I was in a study about interrupting patients in the exam room I would have been dinged for being an overscheduled doctor who doesn’t listen.
But we don’t see the other side of the interruption studies. We prefer the predictable narrative about disinterested doctors. The truth is that sometimes patients go too fast for good care. And as I suggested in How I Structure a Medical Interview, “A medical interview needs leadership. It needs a conductor.”
Sometimes a doctor’s interruption is for all the right reasons.
Pro tip: If you want to learn more about some of how I try to handle myself in the exam room check out the Doctoring 101 tag. Every post here on 33c has tags at the bottom of each post that pull you to other related content that you might enjoy. I use a small font so it doesn’t look obnoxious. But use them. I think you’ll like them.