The evolution of the doctor-patient relationship

Int J Surg. 2007 Feb;5(1):57-65. doi: 10.1016/j.ijsu.2006.01.005. Epub 2006 Mar 3.


The doctor-patient relationship has undergone a transition throughout the ages. Prior to the last two decades, the relationship was predominantly between a patient seeking help and a doctor whose decisions were silently complied with by the patient. In this paternalistic model of the doctor-patient relationship, the doctor utilises his skills to choose the necessary interventions and treatments most likely to restore the patient's health or ameliorate his pain. Any information given to the patient is selected to encourage them to consent to the doctor's decisions. This description of the asymmetrical or imbalanced interaction between doctor and patient [Parsons T. The social system. Free Press, New York, 1951.](1) has been challenged during the last 20 years. Critics have proposed a more active, autonomous and thus patient-centred role for the patient who advocates greater patient control, reduced physician dominance, and more mutual participation. This patient-centred approach has been described as one where "the physician tries to enter the patient's world, to see the illness through the patient's eyes" [McWhinney I. The need for a transformed clinical method. In: Stewart M, Roter D, Communicating with medical patients. London: Sage, 1989.](2), and has become the predominant model in clinical practice today.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent*
  • Patient Care / history
  • Patient-Centered Care / trends
  • Physician-Patient Relations*