Patients’ Characteristics Affecting Physician-Patient Nonverbal Communication



    1. Richard L. Street, Jr. (Ph.D., University of Texas, 1980) is associate professor of speech communication, Texas A & M University, College Station, Texas 77843.
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    1. Dauid B. Butler (Ph.D., Michigan State University, 1984) is an assistant professor of communication, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721.
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Previous research has reported that nonverbal elements of physician-patient communication influence medical outcomes such as patients’ understanding, compliance, and saris/action with health care delivery. This investigation examined the impact of various patients’ characteristics (age, sex, education, anxiety, and relational history with the physician) on patterns of nonverbal communication exhibited in 41 physician-patient interactions at a family practice clinic. Several findings were noteworthy. First, although they were relatively consistent in their nonverbal responses to different patients, physicians generally reciprocated patient's adjustments in response latency, pauses during speaking turns, body orientation, and interruptions and compensated patient's modifications in turn duration and gestural rates. Second, physicians nonverbally interacted with patients over 30 years of age in a less domineering and more responsive fashion (e.g., comparable turn durations, more vocal back-channels, and more nonverbal behavior reciprocity) than they did when conversing with patients under 30. Third, physicians appeared responsive to patients experiencing various degrees of anxiety. Specifically, relative to their interactions with less worried patients, physicians used less task touch with anxious patients and to a greater degree compensated the worried patients nonverbal responses. Finally, the patients sex, education, and visit (i.e., first versus repeat) had little impact on the structure of physician-patient nonverbal exchanges.