, Volume 26, Issue 11, pp 1317-1323
Date: 07 Jul 2011

Effectiveness of Intensive Physician Training in Upfront Agenda Setting

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Patients want all their concerns heard, but physicians fear losing control of time and interrupt patients before all concerns are raised.


We hypothesized that when physicians were trained to use collaborative upfront agenda setting, visits would be no longer, more concerns would be identified, fewer concerns would surface late in the visit, and patients would report greater satisfaction and improved functional status.

Design and Participants

Post-only randomized controlled trial using qualitative and quantitative methods. Six months after training (March 2004—March 2005) physician-patient encounters in two large primary care organizations were audio taped and patients (1460) and physicians (48) were surveyed.


Experimental physicians received training in upfront agenda setting through the Establishing Focus Protocol, including two hours of training and two hours of coaching per week for four consecutive weeks.

Main Measures

Outcomes included agenda setting behaviors demonstrated during the early, middle, and late encounter phases, visit length, number of raised concerns, patient and physician satisfaction, trust and functional status.

Key Results

Experimental physicians were more likely to make additional elicitations (p < 0.01) and their patients were more likely to indicate agenda completion in the early phase of the encounter (p < 0.01). Experimental group patients and physicians raised fewer concerns in the late encounter phase (p < 0.01). There were no significant differences in visit length, total concerns addressed, patient or provider satisfaction, or patient trust and functional status


Collaborative upfront agenda setting did not increase visit length or the number of problems addressed per visit but may reduce the likelihood of “oh by the way” concerns surfacing late in the encounter. However, upfront agenda setting is not sufficient to enhance patient satisfaction, trust or functional status. Training focused on physicians instead of teams and without regular reinforcement may have limited impact in changing visit content and time use.