OBJECTIVE: To review the literature on the communicative behaviours primary care patients want from a "good" physician. METHODS: An electronic search used the key words doctor-patient relation AND patient desires OR patient expectations OR patient preferences (from now on referred to as expectations). The qualitative and quantitative articles meeting the selection criteria were analysed separately, comparing methods, definitions, measures and outcomes. The physician behaviours desirable from a patient perspective were grouped by linking them to the communicative functions of an effective medical encounter as defined from a professional perspective. RESULTS: Twenty-seven studies were included. Critical issues were the heterogeneity of definitions and measures and the lack of integration between quantitative and qualitative findings. Most of the expectations in qualitative studies were related to the function "Fostering the relationship". Similar expectations arose less often in quantitative studies. CONCLUSIONS: Patients do have concrete expectations regarding each of the functions to be met in the medical encounters. The research approach tends to bias the results. PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: The collected expectations suggest how physicians may perform each of their tasks according to the patient perspective. Future research on patients' communicative expectations needs to overcome the gap between qualitative and quantitative findings.
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