The Evaluation of Physicians' Communication Skills From Multiple Perspectives

Published in: The Annals of Family Medicine, Volume 16, Number 4 (July/August 2018), Pages 330-337. doi: 10.1370/afm.2241

Posted on on August 23, 2018

by Jenni A. Burt, Gary A. Abel, Marc N. Elliott, Natasha L. Elmore, Jennifer Newbould, Antoinette Davey, Nadia R. Llanwarne, Inocencio Maramba, Charlotte Paddison, John Campbell, et al.

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To examine how family physicians', patients', and trained clinical raters' assessments of physician-patient communication compare by analysis of individual appointments.


Analysis of survey data from patients attending face-to-face appointments with 45 family physicians at 13 practices in England. Immediately post-appointment, patients and physicians independently completed a questionnaire including 7 items assessing communication quality. A sample of videotaped appointments was assessed by trained clinical raters, using the same 7 communication items. Patient, physician, and rater communication scores were compared using correlation coefficients.


Included were 503 physician-patient pairs; of those, 55 appointments were also evaluated by trained clinical raters. Physicians scored themselves, on average, lower than patients (mean physician score 74.5; mean patient score 94.4); 63.4% (319) of patient-reported scores were the maximum of 100. The mean of rater scores from 55 appointments was 57.3. There was a near-zero correlation coefficient between physician-reported and patient-reported communication scores (0.009, P = .854), and between physician-reported and trained rater-reported communication scores (−0.006, P = .69). There was a moderate and statistically significant association, however, between patient and trained-rater scores (0.35, P = .042).


The lack of correlation between physician scores and those of others indicates that physicians' perceptions of good communication during their appointments may differ from those of external peer raters and patients. Physicians may not be aware of how patients experience their communication practices; peer assessment of communication skills is an important approach in identifying areas for improvement.

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