In May 1999, 21 leaders and representatives from major medical education and professional organizations attended an invitational conference jointly sponsored by the Bayer Institute for Health Care Communication and the Fetzer INSTITUTE: The participants focused on delineating a coherent set of essential elements in physician-patient communication to: (1) facilitate the development, implementation, and evaluation of communication-oriented curricula in medical education and (2) inform the development of specific standards in this domain. Since the group included architects and representatives of five currently used models of doctor-patient communication, participants agreed that the goals might best be achieved through review and synthesis of the models. Presentations about the five models encompassed their research base, overarching views of the medical encounter, and current applications. All attendees participated in discussion of the models and common elements. Written proceedings generated during the conference were posted on an electronic listserv for review and comment by the entire group. A three-person writing committee synthesized suggestions, resolved questions, and posted a succession of drafts on a listserv. The current document was circulated to the entire group for final approval before it was submitted for publication. The group identified seven essential sets of communication tasks: (1) build the doctor-patient relationship; (2) open the discussion; (3) gather information; (4) understand the patient's perspective; (5) share information; (6) reach agreement on problems and plans; and (7) provide closure. These broadly supported elements provide a useful framework for communication-oriented curricula and standards.