Physician frustration in communicating with patients

Wendy Levinson, William B. Stiles, Thomas S. Inui, Robert Engle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

106 Scopus citations


In this study, the nature of practicing physicians’ “frustrating” visits was explored and a guide to help physicians identify problems in communicating with patients was developed. The study included 1,076 practicing physicians who attended a voluntary workshop on physician-patient communication. The physicians were from multiple specialties and diverse work settings geographically dispersed throughout the United States. The method included development of a preliminary item pool (descriptions of frustrating patients and occasions) by experienced physicians and teachers of medical communication, additions/deletions/revisions of items within the pool, empirical analyses to reduce redundancy and group-like items, and construct validation of the final 25-item questionnaire. Factor analysis was used to identify subscales. Physicians most often attributed communication problems to the patient rather than to their own limitations. Seven types of communication problems (subscales) were identified, including: 1) lack of trust/agreement, 2) too many problems, 3) feeling distressed, 4) lack of understanding, 5) lack of adherence, 6) demanding/ controlling patient, and 7) special problems. Primary care physicians reported greater problems than specialists on four subscales. Physicians practicing in health maintenance organizations reported greater problems than physicians in fee-for-service practice on five subscales. Seven sources of frustration physicians experience in their work with patients were identified. Understanding these frustrations will allow physicians to reflect on their own experiences and potentially improve the quality of their patient visits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-295
Number of pages11
JournalMedical care
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1993
Externally publishedYes


  • Communication
  • Physician frustration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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