Circling the undefined-A grounded theory study of intercultural consultations in Swedish primary care

PLoS One. 2018 Aug 30;13(8):e0203383. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0203383. eCollection 2018.


Well-functioning physician-patient communication is central to primary care consultations. An increasing demand on primary care in many countries to manage a culturally diverse population has highlighted the need for improved communication skills in intercultural consultations. In previous studies, intercultural consultations in primary care have often been described as complex for various reasons, but studies exploring physician-patient interactions contributing to the understanding of why they are complex are lacking. Therefore, the aim of this study was to explore intercultural physician-patient communication in primary care consultations, generating a conceptual model of the interpersonal interactions as described by both the patients and the physicians. Using grounded theory methodology, 15 residents in family medicine and 30 foreign-born patients, the latter with Arabic and Somali as native languages, were interviewed. The analysis generated a conceptual model named circling the undefined, where a silent agreement on issues fundamental to the core of the consultation was inadequately presumed and the communicative behaviors used did not contribute to clarity. This could be a possible contributory cause of the perceived complexity of intercultural consultations. Identifying what takes place on an interpersonal level in intercultural consultations might be a first step towards building a common ground for increased mutual understanding, thereby bringing us one step closer to sharing, rather than circling the undefined.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Communication
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Grounded Theory
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Sweden

Grants and funding

This work was supported by FORTE Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, 2014-0853, SE, The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.