The efficiency of communication between junior hospital doctors and 77 general surgical patients was assessed by using standardized questionnaires before and after the doctor/patient interview on both the patient and the house doctor. Patients were better informed about their illness than their surgery, and doctors wrongly estimated patients' knowledge in 41% of cases. Self-reported preoperative anxiety of patients was low and was estimated wrongly by house doctors in 58% of cases. In 52% of cases house doctors were considered by patients to be the most important source of information, but patients had little comprehension of the seniority of other doctors. Although 60% of patients were satisfied with the communication, the majority complained of lack of information concerning convalescence, postoperative pain and routine ward procedures.