AIMS: To illustrate how sequence analysis may be applied to the medical interview to: 1. explore how physicians without formal training in communication skills elicit and respond to patient cues and expression of expectations and opinions; and 2. test the hypothesis that physicians' closed ended questions determine the use of subsequent closed ended questions. METHODS: 238 consultations in primary care, coded with the Verona Medical Interview Classification System, were analysed. Lag 1 analysis was applied to study which physician behaviour precedes and follows patient cues. Pattern recognition analysis for five lag sequences was performed to test the occurrence of predefined specific code chains, where a closed and an open ended question were followed either by two closed-ended questions or by two patient facilitating interventions RESULTS: Patients' cue offers were most likely after facilitative interventions, but not after open-ended questions; physicians were most likely to respond to these expressions with facilitation. Physicians' tendency to use closed ended questions increased after previous closed questions and decreased after an open-ended question. CONCLUSIONS: Lag sequential analysis and pattern recognition analysis are useful methods to study exploratory and theory driven hypotheses and allow an initial approach to validate the supposed appropriateness of specific physician interventions.
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