Sitting vs Standing When Speaking with Patients: Does it make a Difference?

Interactions with Patients are Enhanced When Practitioners Choose to Sit

One of the first things a puppy learns how to do is sit. A food treat is placed just above the nose and moved slightly backwards and voila! …. the puppy finds itself sitting.

Sitting also matters in medicine – specifically when it comes to interactions that occur between patients and their health care providers.

The 2012 Swayden Study

Everyone should know about a classic study from 2012 by Swayden and colleagues. Researchers set out to determine if it really makes any difference if physicians sit or stand when talking to their patients. 

The researchers conducted a prospective, randomized, controlled study with 120 post-operative adult inpatients admitted for elective spine surgery.  They recorded the actual lengths of the appointments and compared this data to patients’ estimations of the time of those interactions. They also evaluated other features of the interaction.

Doctors who sat down were perceived as being present with the patient longer even though the actual time spent with patients was similar in the two groups. In the standing group, doctors remained with patients about 1 min and 28 seconds on average and patients perceived the interaction as being about 3 min and 44 seconds. In the sitting group, patients remained with doctors about 1 min an 4 seconds on average and patients rated the length as 5 min and 14 seconds.

95 % of patients in the group where doctors sat rated the interaction as positive compared to 61 % in the group where doctors stood. Patients with whom the physician sat also reported a more positive interaction and a better understanding of their medical condition.


This is an important study for all health care providers to be aware of. The value of this information extends to doctors, nurses, dentists, social works, psychologists. If it’s possible to sit rather than stand, it’s probably worthwhile to do so. Patients perceive enhanced benefit by doing so and obtain a better understanding of their condition.


Kelli J Swayden et al. Effect of sitting vs. standing on perception of provider time at bedside: a pilot study. Patient Educ Couns. 2012 Feb.

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