Background: Although substantial resources have been invested in communication skills training for clinicians, little research has been done to test the actual effect of such training on patient satisfaction.
Objective: To determine whether clinicians' exposure to a widely used communication skills training program increased patient satisfaction with ambulatory medical care visits.
Design: Randomized, controlled trial.
Setting: A not-for-profit group-model health maintenance organization in Portland, Oregon.
Participants: 69 primary care physicians, surgeons, medical subspecialists, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners from the Permanente Medical Group of the Northwest.
Intervention: "Thriving in a Busy Practice: Physician-Patient Communication," a communication skills training program consisting of two 4-hour interactive workshops. Between workshops, participants audiotaped office visits and studied the audiotapes.
Measurements: Change in mean overall score on the Art of Medicine survey (HealthCare Research, Inc., Denver, Colorado), which measures patients' satisfaction with clinicians' communication behaviors, and global visit satisfaction.
Results: Although participating clinicians' self-reported ratings of their communication skills moderately improved, communication skills training did not improve patient satisfaction scores. The mean score on the Art of Medicine survey improved more in the control group (0.072 [95% CI, -0.010 to 0.154]) than in the intervention group (0.030 [CI, -0.060 to 0.1201).
Conclusions: "Thriving in a Busy Practice: Physician-Patient Communication," a typical continuing medical education program geared toward developing clinicians' communication skills, is not effective in improving general patient satisfaction. To improve global visit satisfaction, communication skills training programs may need to be longer and more intensive, teach a broader range of skills, and provide ongoing performance feedback.