Objective: To assess the relationship between physicians' beliefs about the psychosocial aspects of patient care and their routine communication with patients.
Participants and setting: Fifty community primary care physicians participating in a continuing medical education program and 473 of their patients in Portland, Oregon.
Methods: Routine office visits were audiotaped and analyzed for communication behaviors and emotional tone using the Roter Interactional Analysis System (RIAS). Physician beliefs about psychosocial aspects of care were measured using a self-report questionnaire with a five-point Likert scale. Attitudes were correlated with communication behaviors using the Pearson correlation coefficient.
Results: Physicians' attitudes toward psychosocial aspects of care were associated with both physician and patient dialogue in visits. The physicians who had positive attitudes used more statements of emotion (i.e., empathy, reassurance) (p < 0.05) and fewer closed-ended questions (p < 0.01) than did their colleagues who had less positive attitudes. The patients of the physicians who had positive attitudes more actively participated in care (i.e., expressing opinions, asking questions), and these physicians provided relatively more psychosocial and less biomedical information (p < 0.05).
Conclusion: Physician beliefs about psychosocial aspects of patient care are associated with their communication with patients in routine office visits. Patients of physicians with more positive attitudes have more psychosocial discussions in visits than do patients of physicians with less positive attitudes. They also appear more involved as partners in their care. These findings have implications for medical educators, teachers, and practicing physicians.