Physician gender affects how physician nonverbal behavior is related to patient satisfaction

Med Care. 2008 Dec;46(12):1212-8. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e31817e1877.


Background: Physician and patient gender both influence medical communication. Nonverbal behavior is generally under-researched in the medical encounter but plays an important role for patient outcomes such as satisfaction.

Objective: This article aims at identifying how specific physician nonverbal behaviors predict analogue patient satisfaction depending on physician and patient gender.

Research design: Eleven physicians in a real medical encounter were videotaped and analogue patients indicated their satisfaction with each physician while viewing the videotapes.

Subjects: One hundred sixty-three university students participated (analogue patients).

Measures: From the videotapes, 17 physician nonverbal behaviors (related to face, body, voice/speech), 2 physician appearance cues, 2 characteristics of the examination room, and 1 patient behavior were coded. For each analogue patient, the correlation between each of these coded characteristics and the patient's satisfaction was calculated, across all physicians and across male and female physicians separately.

Results: There was no main effect for patient gender but most coded characteristics showed different relations to patient satisfaction according to physician gender. Analogue patients were most satisfied with female physicians who behaved in line with the female gender role (eg, more gazing, more forward lean, softer voice) while still stressing their professionalism (laboratory coat, medical-looking examination room). For male physicians, satisfaction was high for a broader range of behaviors, partly related to their gender role (eg, louder voice, more distance to patient).

Conclusions: To be satisfied, patients expect female and male physicians to show different patterns of nonverbal behavior. Awareness of these gender-specific expectations should be taken into account in medical training.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Gender Identity*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nonverbal Communication / psychology*
  • Observer Variation
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Sex Factors
  • Videotape Recording