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Int J Family Med. 2012;2012:376907. doi: 10.1155/2012/376907. Epub 2012 Jun 25.

Physician cross-cultural nonverbal communication skills, patient satisfaction and health outcomes in the physician-patient relationship.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


Recent empirical findings document the role of nonverbal communication in cross-cultural interactions. As ethnic minority health disparities in the United States continue to persist, physician competence in this area is important. We examine physicians' abilities to decode nonverbal emotions across cultures, our hypothesis being that there is a relationship between physicians' skill in this area and their patients' satisfaction and outcomes. First part tested Caucasian and South Asian physicians' cross-cultural emotional recognition ability. Physicians completed a fully balanced forced multiple-choice test of decoding accuracy judging emotions based on facial expressions and vocal tones. In the second part, patients reported on satisfaction and health outcomes with their physicians using a survey. Scores from the patient survey were correlated with scores from the physician decoding accuracy test. Physicians, regardless of their ethnicity, were more accurate at rating Caucasian faces and vocal tones. South Asian physicians were no better at decoding the facial expressions or vocal tones of South Asian patients, who were also less likely to be satisfied with the quality of care provided by their physicians and to adhere to their physicians' recommendations. Implications include the development of cultural sensitivity training programs in medical schools, continuing medical education and public health programs.

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