How much explanation is enough? A study of parent requests for information and physician responses

Zoey Goore, Rita Mangione-Smith, Marc N. Elliott, Laurie McDonald, Richard L Kravitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Objective. - To examine the relationship between doctor-parent communication patterns and parents' perceptions that they were listened to by the doctor. Design. - Cross-sectional, clinic-based survey. Before the visit, parents were asked about the strength of their desires/ preferences for being listened to; after the visit, they were asked if their desires were fulfilled and to rate their satisfaction with care. Encounters were audiotaped, transcribed, and coded for parent requests for information and action and physician responses to those requests. Coding was performed using an adapted version of the Taxonomy of Requests by Patients (TORP). Physician responses to parental requests for information were coded as brief, moderate, or prolonged fulfillment or as partially fulfilled, ignored, or denied. Setting. - Two private pediatric practices, 1 community based and 1 university based. Participants. - Ten of 13 eligible physicians (participation rate, 77%) and 306 of 356 eligible parents (participation rate, 86%) who sought care for their children's respiratory illnesses. Parents were invited to participate if they spoke and read English and if their child was 2-10 years old, had a chief complaint of cold symptoms, and was seeing one of the participating physicians. Complete data were obtained for 287 doctor-parent encounters (94%). Results. - Before the visit, 74% of parents reported that they considered it necessary for the physician to listen to their ideas about their child's illness. Among these parents, 62% (n = 130) reported after the visit that the physician had listened to their ideas. As the proportion of moderate-length responses to parent requests for information increased, parents were significantly more likely to report being listened to (P < .05). Multivariate results indicated a 59% probability of parents reporting that they were listened to when given moderate-length responses, 45% when given brief responses, 39% when given prolonged responses, and 12% when requests for information were only partially fulfilled, ignored, or denied. The length of response to parent requests for information was not related to overall parent satisfaction. Conclusions. - Parents who received moderate-length answers to their questions were most likely to report that they were listened to. Although it is assumed that lengthier, in-depth explanations result in higher satisfaction, this study suggests that more doctor talk does not necessarily constitute better communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)326-332
Number of pages7
JournalAmbulatory Pediatrics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2001


  • Doctor-parent communication
  • Satisfaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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