Objective: The evidence base of medical communication has been underdeveloped and the field was felt to be in need for thorough empirical investigation. Studying medical communication can help to clarify what happens during medical encounters and, subsequently, whether the behavior displayed is effective. However, before effectiveness can be established, one should argue what functions or goals the communication has and what outcomes are relevant in medical communication research.
Results and conclusions: In the present paper, we first suggest the six function model of medical communication based on the integration of earlier models. The model distinguishes (1) fostering the relationship, (2) gathering information, (3) information provision, (4) decision making, (5) enabling disease and treatment-related behavior, and (6) responding to emotions. Secondly, a framework for endpoints in such research is presented. Immediate, intermediate and long-term outcomes are distinguished on the one hand and patient-, provider- and process- or context-related outcomes on the other. Based on this framework priorities can be defined and a tentative hierarchy proposed. Health is suggested to be the primary goal of medical communication as are patient-related outcomes. Dilemmas are described. Finally, in medical communication research, theory is advocated to link health care provider behavior or skills to outcomes and to connect intermediate outcomes to long-term ones.
Practice implications: By linking specific communication elements to concrete endpoints within the six function model of medical communication, communication will become better integrated within the process of medical care. This is helpful to medical teachers and motivational to medical students. This approach can provide the place to medical communication it deserves in the center of medical care.