On the importance of nonverbal communication in the physician-patient interaction

Patient Educ Couns. 2007 Aug;67(3):315-8. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2007.03.005. Epub 2007 May 2.


Objective: The goal of this paper is to show that nonverbal aspects in the physician-patient interaction play an important role. Interpersonal judgment relies mostly on nonverbal and appearance cues of the social interaction partner. This is also true for the physician-patient interaction. Moreover, physicians and patients tend to mirror some of their nonverbal behavior and complement each other on other aspects of their nonverbal behavior. Nonverbal cues emitted by the patient can contain important information for the doctor to use for treatment and diagnosis decisions.

Conclusion: The way the physician behaves nonverbally affects patient outcomes, such as, for instance, patient satisfaction. Affilliative nonverbal behavior (e.g., eye gaze and proximity) of the physician is related to higher patient satisfaction. However, how different physician nonverbal behaviors are related to patient satisfaction also depends on personal attributes of the physician such as gender, for instance.

Practice implications: Physician training could profit from incorporating knowledge about physician and patient nonverbal behavior.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Clinical Competence
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Cues
  • Facial Expression
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Kinesics
  • Nonverbal Communication / psychology*
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Patient-Centered Care
  • Phonation
  • Physician's Role / psychology
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Sex Factors