Information-giving in medical consultations: the influence of patients' communicative styles and personal characteristics

R L Street
Social Science & Medicine 1991, 32 (5): 541-8
Informing the patient is arguably the physician's most important communicative responsibility. Recognizing this researchers have long been interested in the question of why some patients receive more information from physicians than do others. In this paper, it is argued that the amount of information physicians provide patients during medical consultations may be influenced by two sets of factors, patients' personal characteristics (age, sex, education, and anxiety) and patients' communicative styles (question-asking, opinion-giving, and expression of concern). The analysis of audiovisual recordings of 41 physician-patient consultations in a family practice clinic revealed several notable findings: (a) information regarding diagnosis and health matters was primarily related to the patient's anxiety, education, and question-asking, (b) information regarding treatment was primarily a function of the patient's question-asking and expression of concerns, and (c) patients' assertiveness and expressiveness were strongly influenced by physicians' use of 'partnership-building' utterances that solicited the patient's questions, concerns, and opinions. The data suggest that, when attempting to explicate factors affecting physicians' informativeness, researchers must take into account features of the patients' communicative styles as well as physicians' perceptions of certain groups of patients.

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