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Communication Research

The average physician conducts between 140,000 and 160,000 medical interviews in the lifetime of his or her practice, making it the most frequently used medical procedure. Strong evidence links interpersonal processes of care to a variety of positive outcomes. For example, in studies done by faculty at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere, patients who report greater involvement in medical care are more satisfied with their physicians, report more understanding, reassurance and perceived control over their illness, and have improvements in medical conditions. Patients who explicitly report being treated with respect and dignity have higher trust, are more adherent to care and are more likely to receive optimal preventive care.

Studies that have directly observed patient-physician communication have demonstrated a positive effect of physician communication behaviors on patient outcomes including pain relief, satisfaction, compliance, and recall of information. In their interactions with African-American patients, physicians have been shown to exhibit less nonverbal attention, empathy, courtesy, and information giving, to adopt a more “narrowly biomedical” communication style, to spend less time providing health education, chatting and answering questions, and to be more verbally dominant and exhibit more negative emotional tone than with white patients. Finally, studies have found that physicians offer more information and have a more positive affect with patients for whom they report having a great deal of respect, that patients are fairly well able to judge whether or not their physician has respect for them.

Faculty in Hopkins GIM have interests and expertise in examining a variety of the interpersonal aspects of health care delivery. Faculty use standard methods such as direct observation of patient-provider encounters using audiotaped analysis and patient experience of care using patient ratings, and have forged novel areas such as the impact of race/ethnicity on the patient-provider relationship and the impact of healthcare providers’ attitudes on patient experiences and outcomes.

Information about the faculty working in this research area and their projects is provided below.

Mary Catherine Beach, MD, MPH
Associate Professor of Medicine and Health, Behavior and Society
Core Faculty, Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research
Research Interests: Patient-provider relationship and communication in primary care, in the treatment of HIV, and in the treatment of sickle cell disease, respect, bioethics
Link to publication abstracts: PubMed.

Gail Berkenblit, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Research Interests: Improving resident training in outpatient care of HIV and communication with HIV-infected patients
Link to publication abstracts: PubMed

Lisa A. Cooper, MD, MPH, FACP
Professor of Medicine and Health, Behavior and Society
Core Faculty, Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research

Director, Center to Eliminate Cardiovascular Health Disparities
Research Interests: Patient-provider relationship and communication in primary care and in the treatment of mental illness (particularly depression), race and gender in patient care
Link to publication abstracts: PubMed    

Gail Geller, ScD 
Professor of Medicine, PediatricsHealth Policy and Management, and Health, Behavior and Society
Core Faculty, Berman Institute of Bioethics
Research Interests: Communication and decision-making, ethics and professionalism, genetics, women's health, medical education, complementary and alternative medicine
Link to publication abstracts: PubMed   

Kimberly Gudzune, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Core Faculty, Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research
 Research interests: Weight-loss interventions
To see publication abstracts: PubMed

Debra Roter, DrPH, MPH
Professor of Health, Behavior and Society
Research interests: physician-patient communication methodology and analysis
Link to publication abstracts: PubMed

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