Background: Doctor-patient communication is an important marker of health-care quality. Little is known about the extent to which medical comorbidities, disease severity and depressive symptoms influence perceptions of doctor-patient communication in patients with chronic disease.
Methods: In a cross-sectional study of 703 outpatients with chronic coronary disease, we evaluated the extent to which patient reports of doctor-patient communication were influenced by medical comorbidities, disease severity and depressive symptoms. We assessed patient reports of doctor-patient communication using the Explanations of Condition and Responsiveness to Patient Preferences subscales from the "Interpersonal Processes of Care" instrument. Poor doctor-patient communication was defined as a score of <4 (range 1 to 5) on either subscale. All patients completed the nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) for measurement of depressive symptoms and underwent an extensive evaluation of medical comorbidities and cardiac function.
Results: In univariate analyses, the following patient characteristics were associated with poor reported doctor-patient communication on one or both subscales: female sex, white or Asian race and depressive symptoms. After adjusting for demographic factors, medical comorbidities and disease severity, each standard deviation (5.4-point) increase in depressive symptom score was associated with a 50% greater odds of poor reported explanations of condition (OR 1.5, 95% CI, 1.2-1.8; p < 0.001) and a 30% greater odds of poor reported responsiveness to patient preferences (OR 1.3, 95% CI, 1.1-1.5; p = 0.01). In contrast, objective measures of disease severity (left ventricular ejection fraction, exercise capacity, inducible ischemia) and medical comorbidities (hypertension, diabetes, myocardial infarction) were not associated with reports of doctor-patient communication.
Conclusions: In outpatients with chronic coronary heart disease, depressive symptoms are associated with perceived deficits in doctor-patient communication, while medical comorbidities and disease severity are not. These findings suggest that patient reports of doctor-patient communication may partly reflect the psychological state of the patient.