Clinical Review

Key communication skills and how to acquire them

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.325.7366.697 (Published 28 September 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:697
  1. Peter Maguire (peter.maguire@man.ac.uk), director,
  2. Carolyn Pitceathly, research fellow.
  1. Cancer Research UK Psychological Medicine Group, Christie Hospital NHS Trust, Manchester M20 4BX
  1. Correspondence to: P Maguire

    Good doctors communicate effectively with patients—they identify patients' problems more accurately, and patients are more satisfied with the care they receive. But what are the necessary communication skills and how can doctors acquire them?

    When doctors use communication skills effectively, both they and their patients benefit. Firstly, doctors identify their patients' problems more accurately.1 Secondly, their patients are more satisfied with their care and can better understand their problems, investigations, and treatment options. Thirdly, patients are more likely to adhere to treatment and to follow advice on behaviour change.2 Fourthly, patients' distress and their vulnerability to anxiety and depression are lessened. Finally, doctors' own wellbeing is improved.35 We present evidence that doctors do not communicate with their patients as well as they should, and we consider possible reasons for this. We also describe the skills essential for effective communication and discuss how doctors can acquire these skills.

    Summary points

    • Doctors with good communication skills identify patients' problems more accurately

    • Their patients adjust better psychologically and are more satisfied with their care

    • Doctors with good communication skills have greater job satisfaction and less work stress

    • Effective methods of communication skills training are available

    • The opportunity to practise key skills and receive constructive feedback of performance is essential

    Sources and selection criteria

    We used original research studies into doctor-patient communication, particularly those examining the relation between key consultation skills and how well certain tasks (such as explaining treatment options) were achieved. We used key words (“communication skills,” “consultation skills,” and “interviewing skills” whether associated with “training” or not) to search Embase, PsycINFO, and Medline over the past 10 years. We also searched the Cochrane database of abstracts of reviews of effectiveness (DARE).

    Box 1: Key tasks in communication with patients

    • Eliciting (a) the patient's main problems; (b) the patient's perceptions of these; and (c) the physical, emotional, and social impact of …

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