Patient-Physician Communication: It’s About Time

Study Questions:

How can patient-physician communication be improved?


This commentary discusses the importance of patient-physician communication and highlights specific areas, which may improve such communication. It has long been recognized that a central process of care hinges on the ability of physicians to listen to their patients. However, with an increase in the amount of technology available, often the importance of communication gets lost. Whether this is due to the technological advances, lack of reimbursement which leads to time constraints, or lack of training at critical junctures in a physician’s career path is unclear. Patient-centered care, a term coined by the Institute of Medicine, was to have assisted in the emphasis of processes of care, which center on patient-specific needs. The authors of this commentary highlight several key constructs that may assist physicians to improve provider-patient communication. Such improvements do not rest solely on the shoulders of health care providers, but include all stakeholders, from patients to employers, insurers, and policy makers. For example, incentives which limit provider’s time with patients reduce the time needed for active listening and thus reduce rather than enhance effective communication.

The authors also highlight the educational objectives of medicine, which include communication skills in the first and second year of medicine, when practitioners have the least amount of patient contact. Further education later in training (i.e., third and fourth years of medical school or during residency and beyond) is rare. The authors call for the American Board of Medical Specialties to incorporate an assessment of communication skills into certifications and maintenance of certification. In fact, it appears the American Board of Medical Specialties is heading in this direction, with requirements for certification renewal to include peer and patient assessments. Further research on the role and characteristics of effective communication is warranted, as is policy on a local and national level, which focuses on the importance of patient-physician communication.


The authors concluded that it is time to make a commitment to strive for excellence in patient-physician communication.


Most of us understand and acknowledge the importance of communication in health care; however, taking active steps to improve such communication is lacking.

Keywords: Physicians, Physician-Patient Relations, Schools, Medical, Certification, Institute of Medicine (U.S.), United States, Patient-Centered Care

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