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South Med J. 2017 Nov;110(11):679-684. doi: 10.14423/SMJ.0000000000000723.

Physician Perspectives on Long-Term Relationships and Friendships with Patients: A National Assessment.

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From the Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, the Department of Internal Medicine, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, and the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities, and History of Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina.



Shifts in the healthcare environment have introduced challenges to the long-term continuity of the doctor-patient relationship. This study examines whether certain demographic or religious characteristics of physicians are associated with maintaining long-term relationships (LTRs) and/or friendships with their patients and describes physicians' opinions regarding the influence of such patient relationships on health outcomes.


In 2011, survey responses were obtained from 1289 US physicians from various specialties. Physicians answered 8 items that assessed their opinions regarding their friendships, sense of meaningfulness, and experience in LTRs. The χ2 test was used to examine bivariate associations between each demographic characteristic and physician responses to the importance of LTRs. The survey included 2 questions about the duration of physician practice and the number of patients seen in a typical week, 4 questions about perceived meaningfulness and friendship in the doctor-patient relationship, and 2 questions about the doctor-patient relationship setting.


The adjusted survey response rate was 69% (1289/1863), 43% of physicians indicated that many or most of their patient relationships are LTRs, and 13.7% indicated they consider many or most of their patients to be friends. Just fewer than half of physicians (45.1%) perceive LTRs to have a great impact on clinical outcomes, 64.8% believe that LTRs contribute to patient trust, and 52.2% believe that LTRs are more likely to cause a patient to follow a physician's medical recommendations.


This study presents a representative picture of US physicians' perceptions regarding relationships with patients. Physicians generally perceive LTRs to have a positive impact on patients' clinical outcomes, although the majority of physicians report they have few or no such relationships.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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