What do patients want from their physicians? This article reviews research on the role of the physician attained through surveys of the public and of physicians. The results from the two groups are surprisingly similar; communication is seen as an essential component of the physician's role. Further, we found that the public's ratings of the medical profession depend heavily on their experience with personal physicians. This paper reviews previous research on the importance of effective communication to patient satisfaction, adherence, and the outcomes of treatment, and it considers ways in which physician-patient communication is being affected by recent changes in the health care system. Suggestions for medical education and for the structure of primary and specialty patient care are offered.