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The relationship between physician humility, physician-patient communication, and patient health.

  • Author(s): Ruberton, Peter M
  • Huynh, Ho P
  • Miller, Tricia A
  • Kruse, Elliott
  • Chancellor, Joseph
  • Lyubomirsky, Sonja
  • et al.
Abstract

Objective

Cultural portrayals of physicians suggest an unclear and even contradictory role for humility in the physician-patient relationship. Despite the social importance of humility, however, little empirical research has linked humility in physicians with patient outcomes or the characteristics of the doctor-patient visit. The present study investigated the relationship between physician humility, physician-patient communication, and patients' perceptions of their health during a planned medical visit.

Methods

Primary care physician-patient interactions (297 patients across 100 physicians) were rated for the physician's humility and the effectiveness of the physician-patient communication. Additionally, patients reported their overall health and physicians and patients reported their satisfaction with the interaction.

Results

Within-physician fluctuations in physician humility and self-reported patient health positively predicted one another, and mean-level differences in physician humility predicted effective physician-patient communication, even when controlling for the patient's and physician's satisfaction with the visit and the physician's frustration with the patient.

Conclusions

The results suggest that humble, rather than paternalistic or arrogant, physicians are most effective at working with their patients.

Practice implications

Interventions to improve physician humility may promote better communication between health care providers and patients, and, in turn, better patient outcomes.

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