Physicians and patients differ on concept of good communication, study finds

Physicians, patients and peer clinical reviewers gave significantly different ratings for physicians' communication skills, signaling physicians may not fully know what patients consider to be good communication, a study published in Annals of Family Medicine found.

Four things to know:

1. The researchers looked at survey results from patients who had appointments with 45 family physicians across 13 practices in England.

2. For the survey, 503 pairs of physicians and patients completed a seven-item questionnaire on how well information was communicated during medical appointments, including how well physicians explained treatments and whether they took patients' problems seriously. Additionally, clinical raters evaluated a sample of 55 of the videotaped sessions using the same seven questions.

3. The researchers then compared patient, physician and rater scores using correlation coefficients. The study found physicians scored themselves lower than patients scored them on average. The average physician score was 74.5 while the average patient score was 94.4. The majority of patients — about 63 percent — gave physicians the maximum score of 100, but the average rater score was about 57 percent.

4. Due to the differences in these scores, physician communication evaluations may need to include more than patient satisfaction scores, the authors wrote. Patients may be wary of pointing out bad experiences on a questionnaire, which could explain why patients tend to rate physicians higher than the physicians score themselves, the authors noted.

"Patient feedback is, and should remain, a central component of assessments of the quality of care," the researchers wrote. "Our findings, however, support the role of trained peer assessors in examining the communication practices of physicians in any multisource assessment investigating standards of care."

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