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When Doctors Talk, Patients Take Care

In case anyone questions the value of better communication between physician and patient, a study conducted in Ann Arbor, MI, by John D. Piette, PhD, of the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Health Care System and the University of Michigan shows clear results.

Supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), Piette and his colleagues conducted a telephone survey with 752 adult diabetes patients who had received care at one of five healthcare systems: three VA hospitals, one county care clinic and a university clinic.

The patients were queried about the type and frequency of diabetes-specific information, as well as general health information, communicated to them by their primary care provider over the past year. The researchers also asked them about diabetes self-care actions they had taken within the past seven days, including foot care, adherence to hypoglycemic medications, dietary recommendations and exercise. The researchers wanted to see if a relationship existed between communication by the physician and effective self-care by the patient.

What they found was both intuitive and surprising: While frequent and quality communication from the physician on both types of healthcare—diabetes-specific and general health information—could be correlated with the highest frequency of self-care (from 63%–97%), communication of either type of health information coincided with markedly improved self-care. In other words, talking to patients regularly about their wellness, even if not about their specific health challenges, resulted in patients taking better care of themselves, at least in this case, when it came to diabetes.

Researchers were also pleased to find that the VA’s and county clinic’s “sociodemographically vulnerable patients” (racial and language minorities and those with less education) said they felt positive about the way physicians were communicating with them. For more, visit


Piette JD, Schillinger D, Potter MB, Heisler M. Dimensions of patient-provider communication and diabetes self-care in an ethnically diverse population, J Gen Intern Med, Aug, 2003; 18(8):677–8.


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