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Physician communication skills training: a review of theoretical backgrounds, objectives and skills


Donald J Cegala PhD, School of Journalism & Communication and Department of Family Medicine, Ohio State University, 3016 Derby Hall, 154 N Oval Mall, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA.
Tel.: 00 1 614 292 3675;
Fax: 00 1 614 292 2055;


Context  Significant shortcomings have been noted in the literature in communication skills training for practising doctors. Given the importance of competent communication to the doctor–patient relationship and health care in general, these shortcomings should be addressed in future research.

Objective Research into physician communication skills training is examined with respect to the communication objectives and behaviours that are addressed.

Methods  A Medline search of literature from 1990 to the present was conducted.

Results  A total of 26 studies of doctor communication skills training were found. The majority of studies included insufficient information about the communication behaviours taught to participants. In several studies, there was a mismatch between stated behaviours and instruments or procedures used to assess them.

Conclusion Three recommendations are suggested. Firstly, future researchers should take greater care in matching assessment instruments with stated communication skills. Secondly, researchers should provide and use a theoretical framework for selecting communication skills to address in interventions, and thirdly, the timing of communication skills within the interview context should be part of the instruction in interventions.

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