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Arch Intern Med. 2008 Jul 14;168(13):1387-95. doi: 10.1001/archinte.168.13.1387.

Relationship, communication, and efficiency in the medical encounter: creating a clinical model from a literature review.

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  • 1Department of Family Medicine, University of Washington, 4245 Roosevelt Way NE, Box 354775, Seattle, WA 98105, USA.



While there is consensus about the value of communication skills, many physicians complain that there is not enough time to use these skills. Little is known about how to combine effective relationship development and communication skills with time management to maximize efficiency. Our objective was to examine what physician-patient relationship and communication skills enhance efficiency.


We conducted searches of PubMed, EMBASE, and PsychINFO for the date range January 1973 to October 2006. We reviewed the reference lists of identified publications and the bibliographies of experts in physician-patient communication for additional publications.


From our initial group of citations (n = 1146), we included only studies written in English that reported original data on the use of communication or relationship skills and their effect on time use or visit length. Study inclusion was determined by independent review by 2 authors (L.B.M. and D.C.D.). This yielded 9 publications for our analysis.


The 2 reviewers independently read and classified the 9 publications and cataloged them by type of study, results, and limitations. Differences were resolved by consensus.


Three domains emerged that may enhance communication efficiency: rapport building, up-front agenda setting, and acknowledging social or emotional clues.


Building on these findings, we offer a model blending the quality-enhancing and time management features of selected communication and relationship skills. There is a need for additional research about communication skills that enhance quality and efficiency.

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