When one imagines the interaction between the doctor and the patient during consultation, it is common for an individual to note apparent and routinized activities. These activities include intermittent dialogue between the doctor and his/her patient, the doctor’s regular use of medical equipment (e.g., medical record, computer, etc.), and procedural tests performed on his patient such as blood pressure readings. However, it is important to recognize the significance of non-verbal communication between a doctor and his patient during medical consultation. This paper will concentrate on the doctor’s “body language” along with its implications that can lead to a positive or negative clinical outcome and patient experience.
As the popular idiom states: “It takes two to tango.” As such, so too, does the act of communicating interpersonally. Initially, an individual transmits an internal thought or feeling through his speech and/or actions. Consequently, the receiving individual culls this information and reciprocates an appropriate response. There are no assigned roles deeming one individual as the transmitter of information and the other as the recipient. Instead, the actions are performed alternately (DeVito, 2003). Therefore, more specifically, non-verbal communication requires joint participation between the doctor and his patient.
Non-verbal communication compares distinctly to verbal communication.
Verbal communication is discrete with clear endpoints; it is mostly under voluntary control and communicates our cognitive thoughts more than our emotions. In contrast, non-verbal communication is less easy to interpret: it is continuous even in silence, can occur in several modes at once, operates at a less conscious level, leaks spontaneous cues, and is the channel most responsible for communicating attitudes, emotions, and affect (Silverman & Kinersley, 2010, 1).
Furthermore, verbal communication is limited to linguistic content, such as, speech. In contrast, non-verbal communication is as diverse as body positions, subtle gestures, eye contact, interpersonal distance, and even touch (Zimbardo & Ruch, 1994). Because it operates at a less conscious level, non-verbal expression may expose an individual’s underlying and unspoken concerns and emotions, oftentimes, unintentionally. As a result, the recipient (typically, the patient in the context of a medical consultation) of the expression may perceive it inductively, which may subject it to misinterpretation.
However, the notion of “patient-centered” behavior and “task-oriented” behavior in a medical consultation may provide clarification behind physicians’ non-verbal signals during a medical interview. In their research article, “Doctor-Patient Communication: A Review of the Literature”, medical psychologists Lucille Ong, Hanekke De Haes, Aloysia Hoos, and gynecologist F.B. Lammes state the following idea:
From a medical point of view, doctors need information to establish the right...