Why should I talk about emotion? Communication patterns associated with physician discussion of patient expressions of negative emotion in hospital admission encounters

Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, USA
Patient Education and Counseling (Impact Factor: 2.2). 05/2012; 89(1):44-50. DOI: 10.1016/j.pec.2012.04.005
Source: PubMed


To describe hospital-based physicians' responses to patients' verbal expressions of negative emotion and identify patterns of further communication associated with different responses.
Qualitative analysis of physician-patient admission encounters audio-recorded between August 2008 and March 2009 at two hospitals within a university system. A codebook was iteratively developed to identify patients' verbal expressions of negative emotion. We categorized physicians' responses by their immediate effect on further discussion of emotion - focused away (away), focused neither toward nor away (neutral), and focused toward (toward) - and examined further communication patterns following each response type.
In 79 patients' encounters with 27 physicians, the median expression of negative emotion was 1, range 0-14. Physician responses were 25% away, 43% neutral, and 32% toward. Neutral and toward responses elicited patient perspectives, concerns, social and spiritual issues, and goals for care. Toward responses demonstrated physicians' support, contributing to physician-patient alignment and agreement about treatment.
Responding to expressions of negative emotion neutrally or with statements that focus toward emotion elicits clinically relevant information and is associated with positive physician-patient relationship and care outcomes.
Providers should respond to expressions of negative emotion with statements that allow for or explicitly encourage further discussion of emotion.

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