Physician-patient-companion communication and decision-making: a systematic review of triadic medical consultations

Patient Educ Couns. 2013 Apr;91(1):3-13. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2012.11.007. Epub 2013 Jan 17.


Objective: To systematically review quantitative and qualitative studies exploring physician-adult patient-adult companion (triadic) communication and/or decision-making within all medical encounters.

Methods: Studies were identified via database searches and reference lists. One author assessed eligibility of studies, verified by two co-authors. Data were extracted by one author and cross-checked for accuracy. Two authors assessed the quality of included articles using standardized criteria.

Results: Of the 8409 titles identified, 52 studies were included. Summary statements and tables were developed for each of five identified themes. Results indicated companions regularly attended consultations, were frequently perceived as helpful, and assumed a variety of roles. However, their involvement often raised challenges. Patients with increased need were more often accompanied. Some companion behaviours were felt to be more helpful (e.g. informational support) and less helpful (e.g. dominating/demanding behaviours), and preferences for involvement varied widely.

Conclusion: Triadic communication in medical encounters can be helpful but challenging. Based on analysis of included studies, preliminary strategies for health professionals are proposed.

Practice implications: Preliminary strategies for health professionals include (i) encourage/involve companions, (ii) highlight helpful companion behaviours, (iii) clarify and agree upon role preferences of patient/companions. Future studies should develop and evaluate specific strategies for optimizing triadic consultations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Communication*
  • Decision Making*
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Humans
  • Patient-Centered Care / methods
  • Patient-Centered Care / standards
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Professional-Family Relations*
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Role