Communication Skills Training for Physicians Improves Patient Satisfaction

J Gen Intern Med. 2016 Jul;31(7):755-61. doi: 10.1007/s11606-016-3597-2. Epub 2016 Feb 26.


Background: Skilled physician communication is a key component of patient experience. Large-scale studies of exposure to communication skills training and its impact on patient satisfaction have not been conducted.

Objective: We aimed to examine the impact of experiential relationship-centered physician communication skills training on patient satisfaction and physician experience.

Design: This was an observational study.

Setting: The study was conducted at a large, multispecialty academic medical center.

Participants: Participants included 1537 attending physicians who participated in, and 1951 physicians who did not participate in, communication skills training between 1 August 2013 and 30 April 2014.

Intervention: An 8-h block of interactive didactics, live or video skill demonstrations, and small group and large group skills practice sessions using a relationship-centered model.

Main measures: Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS), Clinician and Group Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CGCAHPS), Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE), Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), self-efficacy, and post course satisfaction.

Key results: Following the course, adjusted overall CGCAHPS scores for physician communication were higher for intervention physicians than for controls (92.09 vs. 91.09, p < 0.03). No significant interactions were noted between physician specialty or baseline CGCAHPS and improvement following the course. Significant improvement in the post-course HCAHPS Respect domain adjusted mean was seen in intervention versus control groups (91.08 vs. 88.79, p = 0.02) and smaller, non-statistically significant improvements were also seen for adjusted HCAHPS communication scores (83.95 vs. 82.73, p = 0.22). Physicians reported high course satisfaction and showed significant improvement in empathy (116.4 ± 12.7 vs. 124 ± 11.9, p < 0.001) and burnout, including all measures of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment. Less depersonalization and greater personal accomplishment were sustained for at least 3 months.

Conclusions: System-wide relationship-centered communication skills training improved patient satisfaction scores, improved physician empathy, self-efficacy, and reduced physician burnout. Further research is necessary to examine longer-term sustainability of such interventions.

Keywords: CGCAHPS; HCAHPS; burnout; communication; empathy; patient experience; patient satisfaction; physician.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers
  • Burnout, Professional / prevention & control
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Communication*
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inservice Training / methods
  • Male
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Self Efficacy*