Imprecision in medical communication: study of a doctor talking to patients with serious illness

J R Skelton, J Murray, F D Hobbs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Uncertainty is believed to be a central feature in illness experiences. Conversations between a consultant hematologist and 61 seriously ill patients were transcribed, entered on a database and scrutinized for patterns of language uncertainty by linguistic concordancing analysis. Transcripts were then discussed in detail with the hematologist, and techniques of protocol analysis were used to gain insight into his thought processes during consultations. The main findings were that the doctor used many more expressions of uncertainty than did patients: that evaluative terms were widely used to reassure rather than to worry patients; and that patients and doctor together used certain key terms ambiguously, in a manner which allowed the doctor to feel that facts were not misrepresented while perhaps permitting the patient to feel reassured.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)620-5
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the Royal Society of Medicine
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1999


  • Hematologic Diseases
  • Hematologic Neoplasms
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Tape Recording
  • Truth Disclosure
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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