How to Conduct a Patient Interview

Gathering accurate information from a patient is a crucial element of health care.

Gathering accurate information from a patient is a crucial element of health care.

interviewing patients to diagnose their condition is often a challenging process for physician's assistants and other healthcare workers. It requires preparation, an understanding of medical issues and empathy for the person being treated. Patients in pain may be reticent about sharing information or responding to questions of a clinical nature. Reinforce to the patient that your objective is to help provide the help he needs. Follow guidelines that facilitate an effective interview while putting your patient at ease.

Step 1

Prepare for the interview by reviewing information about the patent and his current status. Speak to other healthcare providers familiar with the case and ask for their insight into the patent's condition, including his temperament. Make certain all necessary materials are available, including forms that must be completed and diagnostic equipment, such as a blood pressure monitor.

Step 2

Greet the patient in a warm and friendly manner as you seek to establish a rapport. Introduce yourself and identify your position. Ensure that the patent is comfortable and capable of participating. Check the environment to make certain there is an adequate level of privacy and no distractions. Show respect and make eye contact. Tell the patient that you want to help him feel better, and strive for a conversational tone.

Step 3

Focus on the patient's current condition and any concerns that require immediate attention. Determine what issues the patient wants to discuss, including symptoms and any specific requests. Ask about the medications he has been using, including over-the-counter remedies and nutritional supplements. Inquire about the patient's expectations. Use open-ended questions such as "How would you describe the discomfort you are feeling in your knee?"

Step 4

Build on the foundation you have established by delving further. Establish a time frame when discussing aliments that require attention. For example, ask, "When did you start to experience the pain in your back?" Offer a way for the patient to communicate the severity of his discomfort by asking him to use a scale of 1 to 10. Respond with positive comments if the patient becomes irritable and offer encouragement. For example, say, "I know you are going though a difficult time. You really have handled this ordeal with great strength."

Step 5

Review the information as you summarize what the patient has told you. For example, say, "You said you have stiffness in you back and have been running a fever for the past few days. Is that right?" Give the patient ample time to offer details. Ask whether he has any questions or anything other topics to discuss. Thank the patient and offer reassurance before concluding the interview.


  • Allow a family member or companion to sit in on the interview, if the patient so desires.
  • Empower the patent by asking for his consent as the interview progresses, using phrases like, "I'd like to ask you a few questions now. Is the okay?"


  • Do not offer an immediate opinion about symptoms or offer a spontaneous diagnosis.
  • Do not let the conversation stray from the topic at hand. Stay focused on the patent's condition.

About the Author

Al Stewart's 30-year background as a writer/editor includes staff positions at "Adweek," "Billboard," "Chain Drug Review," "Cable World," "DNR" (men's fashion), "National Floor Trends," and "Variety." A native New Yorker, he is now a writer/editor living in Los Angeles. He has a BA in political science from Wagner College.

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