Interpersonal factors affecting communication in clinical consultations: Canadian physicians' perspectives

Int J Health Care Qual Assur. 2012;25(6):467-82. doi: 10.1108/09526861211246430.


Purpose: This study seeks to determine how process and latent errors in the interpersonal, organizational, health system, and public health domains impact doctor/patient communication and patient safety.

Design/methodology/approach: There were 278 physicians from Manitoba, Canada who completed a self-report questionnaire during 2006. The largest specialty was family medicine, followed by internal medicine and pediatrics. Mean years of practice was 16, and 60 percent of the respondents were male. Respondents indicated the extent to which difficulties were encountered when communicating with patients.

Findings: The study finds that physicians had more difficulties with patients in the 0-20 year age bracket on 12 of the 18 communication statements. Psychiatry and pediatrics reported more difficulties with language interpreters. Pediatrics reported more difficulties with patients using culturally-based alternative medicine. Internal medicine had more difficulty with patients not appearing to trust or participate in treatment decisions. Patients in the 41-60 years age bracket had the highest mean for non-adherence to treatment plans, health maintenance and needed lifestyle change. The female physician-female patient dyad had fewer communication difficulties on all statements.

Research limitations/implications: Further research should examine how family structure influences health-care delivery and health outcomes. Health care organizations can contribute to improving quality of care by seeking out and correcting sources of latent errors, and by supporting professional development and practice interventions.

Originality/value: Few studies exist that have linked communication difficulties to adverse events. This study provides insight on sources of interpersonal errors in communication that directly impact the physician/patient relationship and which may represent threats to patient safety.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Canada
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication*
  • Culture
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Language
  • Male
  • Medicine
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Safety
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care*
  • Sex Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Trust
  • Young Adult