How doctors recognise that their patients are worried: A qualitative study of patient cues

Esther Giroldi*, Angelique Timmerman, Wemke Veldhuijzen, Jean Muris, Cees van der Vleuten, Trudy van der Weijden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Objectives: Recognising patient cues indicating worry is essential for successful reassurance. To obtain more insight into the variety and nature of patient cues that may arise in practice, this study explores doctors' reflections on patient cues they recognise during consultations.

Methods: We performed a qualitative study during which GPs participated in stimulated recall interviews, using their own video-recorded consultations to enhance reflection. First, we reanalysed an existing dataset of 15 interviews during which GPs elaborated on the doctor-patient interaction. Additionally, 12 GPs were interviewed specifically about recognising patients' cues.

Results: GPs described four categories of patient cues that indicate worry. GPs recognised worry based on non-verbal cues such as visible bodily reactions, and verbal cues that can be further categorised by type of worry (e.g. about serious disease). Moreover, GPs described behavioural cues, e.g. the patient bringing a list of symptoms. Lastly, GPs recognise worry based on prior knowledge about the patient.

Conclusions: GPs reflections have given insight into a wide variety of non-verbal -, verbal -, behavioural- and foreknowledge-based cues.

Practice implications: The identified cues can guide other clinicians in recognising worries and inform medical communication training and future research on the effectiveness of recognising cues and patient reassurance. (c) 2019 Published by Elsevier B.V.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-225
Number of pages6
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • Doctor-patient communication
  • General practice
  • Health anxiety
  • Patient-provider interaction
  • Qualitative research
  • Reassurance
  • CARE

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