Objective: Consultations of ethnic-minority patients tend to result in poor mutual understanding between doctor and patient, which may have serious consequences for health care. For good communication, physicians have strong devices at their disposal to manage the information, such as agenda-setting and structuring the interview into segments. What are the cultural differences in the managing of information in medical conversation? What is the relation with level of mutual understanding?
Methods: Data of 103 transcripts of video-registered medical interviews (56 non-Western and 47 Dutch patients) were sequentially analysed, focusing on relevant segments of the medical interview (medical history, diagnosis and conclusion) and on agenda-setting.
Results: Physicians set the agenda and lead the conversation firmly forward, while a considerable number of patients (mainly Dutch) ‘put on the brakes’. The majority of the medical conversations was traditional (37%) or cooperative (37%), while another 25% was more or less conflicting or complaintive in nature. Interviews of ethnic-minority patients were mostly traditional or cooperative, while Dutch patients showed a variety of types, especially in cases of poor mutual understanding. Further, conversational symmetry between patient and physician has increased over the years, due to the importance attached to patient autonomy.
Conclusion: Physicians receive different conversational clues from Dutch and ethnic-minority patients in case of poor mutual understanding.
Practice implications: This points to the necessity for physicians as well as patients to become culturally competent.