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Primary Care Research

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Family doctors and patients tend to agree on what constitutes competent patient communication

Family doctors and patients tend to agree on what behaviors constitute a patient's communication competence during a medical interview, according to a study supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS09520). From the physicians' perspective, competent patients are well prepared, give prior thought to medical concerns, and even educate themselves about their illness prior to the visit. They come to the appointment with an agenda and stay focused on it, while providing detailed information about their medical history, symptoms, and other relevant matters. At the same time, they seek needed information by asking questions about their diagnosis and treatment of their illness.

Similarly, patients view communication competence as providing information about their medical problem, being prepared with an agenda, and asking questions. On the other hand, patients' interviewing behaviors, such as asking questions and providing detailed information, may not necessarily be noted by physicians. In this study, there was no evidence that doctors and patients agreed on the occurrence of competent communication, nor was there a significant correlation between patients' perceptions of competence and patients' actual discourse.

Nevertheless, being prepared for the medical interview is highly valued by both patients and physicians. The study results suggest that programs designed to enhance patients' communication should pay more attention to developing skills in providing information. Research supports the importance of patient-provided information. For example, studies show that most of the diagnostic and treatment decisions that primary care physicians make are based on what information the patient provides about symptoms, previous treatments, and general medical history.

See "Physicians' and patients' perceptions of patients' communication competence in a primary care medical interview," by Donald J. Cegala, Ph.D., Carmin Gade, Ph.D., Stefne Lenzmeier Broz, Ph.D., and Leola McClure, Ph.D., in Health Communication 16(3), pp. 289-304, 2004.

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