Communication experts convened in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2002 to assess current tools that evaluate physician communication skills. They noted occasional discrepancies between a patient's impression of a physician's skill and the physician's performance as measured by current checklists. The authors explore the reasons for this discrepancy and propose a research agenda to resolve it. They maintain that the patient's evaluation of physician communication skills depends upon the degree to which the patient's reason for seeking care is satisfied. Since current evaluation tools do not incorporate information to which only the patient has access, they can assess neither the meaning of the interview nor the success of the physician from the patient's point of view. The authors conclude that physicians' understanding of how well they are meeting patients' needs may require competencies that are unmeasured or only partially measured by current assessment tools, such as "flexibility" or "improvisational skills." These competencies likely reside in the nonverbal domain. The authors suggest that (1) a new tool must be developed that measures the essence, or meaning, of the visit from the patient's perspective; (2) this tool must incorporate information derived directly from the patient; and (3) research is needed to define those physician and patient behaviors that facilitate meaningful encounters.