You spend an average of 18 minutes with your doctor for an appointment. What do you think your doctor could do to improve that time spent together?

When you're together, do you care more about your doctor's interpersonal skills or his medical skills?

A 2005 Harris Interactive Poll conducted for the Wall Street Journal found that people place more value on their doctor’s interpersonal skills than on his training or experience.

The interpersonal and communication skills of a doctor have become so important in recent years that the certification of physicians and accreditation of residency programs (the on-the-job training programs doctors must complete after medical school) now requires an assessment of doctors’ competence in these skills.

Here are some of the sample questions from an assessment tool developed by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM), the certifying board for internists. The voluntary survey can be used by physicians to discover how well they relate to their patients. 

How good is your doctor at . . .

  • Being truthful, upfront and frank; not keeping things from you that you should know?
  • Greeting you warmly; calling you by the name you prefer; being friendly, never crabby or rude?
  • Treating you like you’re on the same level; never “talking down” to you or treating you like a child?
  • Letting you tell your story; listening carefully; asking thoughtful questions; not interrupting?
  • Showing interest in you as a person; not acting bored or ignoring what you have to say?
  • Explaining what you need to know about your conditions and what to expect next?
  • Using words you can understand when explaining your conditions and treatment?

So, how does your doctor measure up?