Disentangling physician sex and physician communication style: their effects on patient satisfaction in a virtual medical visit

Patient Educ Couns. 2007 Sep;68(1):16-22. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2007.03.020. Epub 2007 May 4.


Objective: The present study aimed to investigate the effect of physician sex and physician communication style on patient satisfaction. In real medical visits, physician sex and physician communication style are confounded variables. By using the virtual medical visit paradigm, we were able to disentangle the two variables and study their separate and/or joint effects on patient satisfaction.

Method: In an experimental design, analogue patients (167 students) interacted with a computer-generated virtual physician on a computer screen. The patients' satisfaction during the visit was assessed.

Results: Depending on the sex composition of the dyad, physician communication style affected analogue patients' satisfaction differently. For instance, in male-male dyads, physician communication style did not affect the patients' satisfaction, whereas in female-female dyads, analogue patients were more satisfied when the physician adopted a caring as opposed to a non-caring communication style.

Conclusion: Sex of the physician and sex of the patient moderate how different physician communication styles affect patient satisfaction. In particular, a female-sex role congruent communication style leads to higher patient satisfaction when women see a female physician.

Practice implications: Physician communication training cannot be one size fits all. Rather female and male physicians should obtain different training and they need to be made aware of the fact that female and male patients harbor different expectations toward them.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Communication*
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Men / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Office Visits
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Patient-Centered Care
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians, Women / psychology*
  • Professional Competence / standards
  • Remote Consultation
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Dominance
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Switzerland
  • User-Computer Interface
  • Women / psychology*