Context: Considerable research has been conducted recently into the notion of patient-centred consulting. The primary goal of this approach is to establish a clear understanding of the patient's perspective on his or her problem, and to allow this understanding to inform both the explanation and planning stages of the consultation. The quality of this understanding is largely determined by the empathic accuracy achieved by the doctor; the primary benefit is a therapeutic rapport between doctor and patient.
Methods: To highlight the role of empathy and communication skills in establishing rapport, we initially developed a model which seeks to draw the various motivational and skill elements identified in separate research papers into a comprehensive model of the journey towards shared understanding between doctor and patient. We then conducted an initial validation of the model via qualitative analysis involving general practitioners (GPs) and clinical psychologists.
Results: The validation offered encouraging support for the principal elements of the model. Specific suggestions for clarification and extension were then incorporated in a revised model.
Conclusions: The model appears to capture the dynamic process of establishing a therapeutic relationship (rapport) between doctor and patient, defined by the quality of the doctor's understanding of the patient's perspective on his or her problem. Arguably, the most important contribution of the model is to highlight the fact that 'empathy' and consequent 'rapport' are not mystical or exclusive concepts but, rather, involve the use of specific skills accessible at some level by all.