Physician virtues and communicating with patients

New Horiz. 1997 Feb;5(1):6-14.


The growth of profit-driven medicine and managed care as well as the increasingly technologic focus of Western medicine have stimulated much reflection on the fundamental values of the medical profession and on the meaning of being a "good doctor." Many patients and many in the medical community have grown concerned about the fate of the doctor-patient relationship. In practicing medicine, physicians must be guided both by the basic principles of biomedical ethics and by Beauchamp's and Childress's four fundamental virtues: compassion, trustworthiness, discernment, and moral integrity. In addition, physicians must make the commitment to develop strong communication skills, for it is through communicating with patients that we forge a relationship with them and make them feel cared for. Good communication skills not only improve patient satisfaction and facilitate resolving the difficult ethical problems that arise in critical care but have also been shown to improve certain health outcomes. Unfortunately, studies have repeatedly shown physicians to have poor communication skills. In this article we identify key elements in preserving medicine's "covenant of trust" and in establishing good communication and rapport in critical care settings. We identify specific obstacles to good communication and propose strategies for overcoming them.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence
  • Communication*
  • Critical Care / standards*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Euthanasia, Passive
  • Humans
  • Managed Care Programs
  • Patient Participation
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Power, Psychological