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Soc Sci Med. 2002 Oct;55(7):1245-53.

Is GP-patient communication related to their perceptions of illness severity, coping and social support?

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Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Ghent, Belgium.


The aim of the study was to explore the relationship between the communicative behaviour of general practitioner and patient on the one hand and the perception of the coping behaviour of the patient, the severity of the complaint and the presence of social support on the other hand. From 20 general practitioners (GP), 15 consultations per GP were videotaped and analysed using the Roter Interaction Analysis System. Doctors and patients rated their perceptions on questionnaires. The finding was that doctors and patients used predominantly task-oriented (instrumental) behaviour, with some exceptions. With older patients and patients with low social support the GPs used more affective communication, mainly consisting of social talk and mutual agreement. In the case of complex problems, the GP paid special attention to the relationship with the patient. Within the domain of instrumental communication, some differences between doctor and patient were observed. Although doctors and patients exchanged a lot of information about medical issues, patients gave information about their lifestyle and emotions, which the doctors did not verbally explore. In consultations where the patient perceived the complaint as severe, he or she was more focussed on the medical content. When the GP considered psychosocial issues important, doctor and patient communicated about lifestyle, emotions and social relations. This doctor-patient correlation was not found when patients perceived their problem as psychosocial.

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