Body language by both patient and doctor can play a role in their relationship.

To some people, body language is very important. They believe they can interpret what another person is thinking just by observing the unsaid messages received by watching an individual's body movements.


Body language by both patient and doctor can play a role in their relationship. Although patients may not tell their doctor that they are worried about something, a perceptive physician, by observing patients, can suspect that they are depressed or anxious about something they rather not discuss.


Patients, by observing their doctor's body language, can also pick up non-verbal signals about their doctor.


For example, does something as mundane as the doctor standing or sitting during the initial evaluation make any difference to the patient?


A study was done to answer this question.


The study was done in an emergency room setting to determine if whether the doctor stood or sat altered the patient's perception concerning the amount of time spent with the patient.


Results showed that it did. The actual amount of time spent with each patient averaged about 8.5 minutes. When the physician was sitting, patients overestimated the time spent by 1.3 minutes.


When the doctor was standing, patients underestimated the time spent by a half a minute.


Apparently, sitting provided a more positive body language.


Negative body language would be the doctor glancing at his or her watch, not looking directly at the patient, or writing notes while the patient is discussing an important concern.


Early in my medical career a wise physician gave me some good advice. He told me to always be seated at the conclusion of the patient's visit when explaining the results of the examination because if standing, it may appear as if I am in a hurry. This is especially true if you are standing near the door with your hand on the door knob.


Remember, the interpretation of a person's body language is not always correct. But if it bothers you enough during your doctor's visit, discuss it with your doctor.


There is nothing wrong with asking your doctor -- who has his hand on the doorknob while talking to you - if he's in a hurry and would it be better to discuss the results of your visit at another time.


That should get his attention and if it doesn't, then maybe it's time to consider getting another doctor.


Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of the National Birth Defects Center, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.