Effective communication between doctor and patient is a critical component of high-quality care. The physician's credibility has a significant effect on treatment outcomes. Because changes in medicine and larger cultural trends challenge the ability of clinicians to engage their patients' trust, new kinds of partnerships must be created. To do this effectively, physicians have to sharpen their communication skills and devise strategies for assuring that their patients become informed allies in their own treatment. A number of innovations are helping to build these alliances: training in communication skills; creative uses of the Internet and videotape technologies; improved "customer service" programs; critical pathways for patients; and special educational aids. All these tools promise to be useful, but they require careful development and evaluation.