The relationship between doctor and patient receives increasing interest in the public press and in scientific discussions. An increasing number of intervention studies aiming at an enhancement of doctor-patient communication is currently in action. This paper examines the potential of a patient satisfaction questionnaire (PSQ) to assess the need for such an intervention study or to identify those residents who would profit most from an intervention. We investigated a sequential sample of 257 outpatients at the Outpatient Clinic of a Medical University Clinic (137 men, 120 women, mean age 42 +/- 17 years) who were seen by eleven residents for the first time. We used the german translation of an american 14-item questionnaire. Typical psychosocial characteristics of the sample were also assessed. 73.2 percent of the patients are "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with various physician activities during the examination, the mean sum score of the PSQ is 60.1 +/- 7.1 points (range: 39-70 points; maximum score: 70 points). Residents reach a mean total score between 58 and 63 points. Neither in single items nor in the sum score was there any significant difference between residents. We found no differences in PSQ values attributable to sociodemographic variables. The results show that the PSQ is not able to identify those residents to whom intervention studies should be offered in order to enhance psychosocial skills. Its use as an evaluation tool seems also limited because patient satisfaction is very high already prior to an intervention.