Verbal and non-verbal behavior of doctors and patients in primary care consultations - How this relates to patient enablement

Teresa Pawlikowska*, Wenjuan Zhang, Frances Griffiths, Jan van Dalen, Cees van der Vleuten

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objective: To assess the relationship between observable patient and doctor verbal and non-verbal behaviors and the degree of enablement in consultations according to the Patient Enablement Instrument (PEI) (a patient-reported consultation outcome measure). Methods: We analyzed 88 recorded routine primary care consultations. Verbal and non-verbal communications were analyzed using the Roter Interaction Analysis System (RIAS) and the Medical Interaction Process System, respectively. Consultations were categorized as patient- or doctor-centered and by whether the patient or doctor was verbally dominant using the RIAS categorizations. Results: Consultations that were regarded as patient-centered or verbally dominated by the patient on RIAS coding were considered enabling. Socio-emotional interchange (agreements, approvals, laughter, legitimization) was associated with enablement. These features, together with task-related behavior explain up to 33% of the variance of enablement, leaving 67% unexplained. Thus, enablement appears to include aspects beyond those expressed as observable behavior. Conclusion: For enablement consultations should be patient-centered and doctors should facilitate socio-emotional interchange. Observable behavior included in communication skills training probably contributes to only about a third of the factors that engender enablement in consultations. Practice implications: To support patient enablement in consultations, clinicians should focus on agreements, approvals and legitimization whilst attending to patient agendas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-76
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012


  • Patient enablement
  • Consultation
  • Primary care
  • Verbal communication
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Patient-physician relationship

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