Anybody who has complained of the questionable “bed-side manner” of his or her physician can appreciate the role of communication assessments made of medical students and practicing physicians. Communication assessments provide a picture of the individual doctor or medical student’s ability to develop the proper interpersonal skills, the absence of which can seriously harm the quality of care patients receive. If those skills are deficient, the patient is less likely to have sufficient confidence in his or her doctor and is, consequently, less likely to agree to a course of treatment that could prove highly beneficial, or even life-saving. That is why there is a large body of literature on the importance of communication assessments in the medical field. In fact, the American Medical Association maintains an “Ethical Force Program” designed to ensure that the importance of what it calls “patient-centered communication” receives the attention it deserves by member physicians.
Especially in the case of life-threatening diseases or conditions, when highly invasive surgical procedures or particularly intensive regimens of chemotherapy are required, the need for good communication skills on the part of the physician is of paramount importance, both to convince the frightened patient of the gravity of the situation and to comfort him or her regarding the prospects of a successful course of treatment. That is why, when entering one’s doctor’s office to discuss worrisome symptoms, whether that doctor has been assessed for his or her communication skills can be the difference between a successful, productive visit, and a tense, confrontational encounter.