Good doctor-patient communication may lead to better compliance, higher patient satisfaction, and finally, better health. Although the social variance in how physicians and patients communicate is clearly demonstrated, little is known about what patients with different educational attainments actually prefer in doctor-patient communication. In this study we describe patients' perspective in doctor-patient communication according to their educational level, and to what extent these perspectives lean towards the expert opinion on doctor-patient communication. In a multi-center study (Belgium, The Netherlands, UK and Italy), focus group discussions were organised using videotaped medical consultations. A mixed methods approach was used to analyse the data. Firstly, a difference in perspective in communication style was found between the lower educated participants versus the middle and higher educated participants. Secondly, lower educated participants referred positively most to aspects related to the affective/emotional area of the medical consultation, followed by the task-oriented/problem-focused area. Middle and higher educated participants positively referred most to the task-oriented/problem-focused area. The competency of the physician was an important category of communication for all participants, independent of social background. The results indicate that the preferences of lower educated participants lean more towards the expert opinion in doctor-patient communication than the middle and higher educated participants. Patients' educational level seems to influence their perspective on communication style and should be taken into account by physicians. Further quantitative research is needed to confirm these results.
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