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KeywordsDoctor-patient Communication Skills Actual Health Outcomes Psychosocial Talk Affect Patients Positive Interpersonal Relationships
Communication skills are an essential medium through which physicians interact with patients, in order to diagnose and treat patients. According to Ong et al. (1995), doctor-patient communication has three main roles: (1) to create a positive interpersonal relationship, (2) exchange information, and (3) make treatment-related decisions. A positive interpersonal relationship includes facilitation of trust between the patient and a health professional that enables honest bidirectional expression of concerns and report of behaviors (e.g., risky behaviors, nonadherence). Exchange of information is the basis of the doctor-patient interaction, where information from patient to doctor enables the latter to arrive at more accurate diagnoses and to decide about more suitable and effective treatments. Similarly, adequate exchange of information from physician to patient enables the doctor to inform the patient about risks of unhealthy behaviors (e.g., smoking) and benefit of others (e.g., self-monitoring of glucose levels or of physical activity). Finally, adequate communication helps physicians decide about patient-tailored treatments, suitable to their age, culture, levels of information seeking, family history of an illness, comorbidities, etc.
According to research (e.g., Di Blasi et al. 2001; Ong et al. 1995), doctor-patient communication skills (e.g., information giving, listening, reassuring) affect patients’ satisfaction from treatment, understanding and recall of the interaction with doctors, adherence to medical regimes, and most importantly, actual health outcomes. The influence of communication skills on patient recall is important given that patients can at times recall very little of the information provided to them during consultations. A review on this topic found 14 studies on verbal variables and patient outcomes and showed that factors such as empathy, reassurance, “psychosocial talk,” humor, and patient-centered talk correlated with positive health outcomes. The same review identified eight studies on nonverbal communication and patient outcomes and showed that factors such as head nodding, forward leaning, and less mutual gaze correlated with positive health outcomes (Beck et al. 2002). Communications skills can be, and are taught, as part of medical education in many medical schools worldwide. Studies show that such training positively influences patients’ health outcomes including blood pressure and glucose stability (Inui et al. 1976). Finally, the doctors’ communication skills also influence patients’ decision-making (van den Brink-Muinen et al. 2006), an important finding in an era where patients take a more active role in their health care.