The communication process in clinical settings

Soc Sci Med. 1983;17(18):1371-8. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(83)90197-1.


The communication of information in clinical settings is fraught with problems despite avowed common aims of practitioners and patients. Some reasons for the problematic nature of clinical communication are incongruent frames of reference about what information ought to be shared, sociolinguistic differences and social distance between practitioners and patients. Communication between doctors and nurses is also problematic, largely due to differences in ideology between the professions about what ought to be communicated to patients about their illness and who is ratified to give such information. Recent social changes, such as the Patient Bill of Rights and informed consent which assure access to information, and new conceptualizations of the nurse's role, warrant continued study of the communication process especially in regard to what constitutes appropriate and acceptable information about a patient's illness and who ought to give such information to patients. The purpose of this paper is to outline characteristics of communication in clinical settings and to provide a literature review of patient and practitioner interaction studies in order to reflect on why information exchange is problematic in clinical settings. A framework for presentation of the problems employs principles from interaction and role theory to investigate clinical communication from three viewpoints: (1) the level of shared knowledge between participants; (2) the effect of status, role and ideology on transactions; and (3) the regulation of communication imposed by features of the institution.

KIE: A literature review of patient-practitioner and physician-nurse interaction studies revealed several problematic areas in clinical communication. Information transfer among patients and healers is influenced by their degree of shared knowledge; culturally derived statuses, relationships, and roles; and the bureaucratic organization of clinical institutions. Recent social changes, such as the consumer rights movement, public information services, specialization of health professionals, and a shift in conceptualization of the nurse's role, have been significant factors affecting clinical communication.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Disclosure
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Information Theory
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Nurse-Patient Relations*
  • Organizational Objectives
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Role