Objective: We sought to synthesize the findings of studies examining interventions to enhance the communication behaviors of physicians and patients during outpatient encounters.
Methods: We conducted searches of 6 databases between 1966 and 2005 to identify studies for a systematic review and synthesis of the literature. Eligible studies tested a communication intervention; were randomized controlled trials (RCTs); objectively assessed verbal communication behaviors as the primary outcome; and were published in English. Interventions were characterized by type (eg, information, modeling, feedback, practice), delivery strategy, and overall intensity. We abstracted information on the effects of the interventions on communication outcomes (eg, interpersonal and information exchanging behaviors). We examined the effectiveness of the interventions in improving the communication behaviors of physicians and patients.
Results: Thirty-six studies were reviewed: 18 involved physicians; 15 patients; and 3 both. Of the physician interventions, 76% included 3 or 4 types, often in the form of practice and feedback sessions. Among the patient interventions, 33% involved 1 type, and nearly all were delivered in the waiting room. Intervention physicians were more likely than controls to receive higher ratings of their overall communication style and to exhibit specific patient-centered communication behaviors. Intervention patients obtained more information from physicians and exhibited greater involvement during the visit than controls.
Conclusions: The interventions were associated with improved physician and patient communication behaviors. The challenge for future research is to design effective patient and physician interventions that can be integrated into practice.