Disparities in patient-resident physician communication and counseling: A multiperspective exploratory qualitative study

Asma Altaf Hussain Merchant, Namra Qadeer Shaikh, Noreen Afzal, Ali Aahil Noorali, Komal Abdul Rahim, Rida Ahmad, Areesha Ahmer, Adnan Ali Khan, Saqib Kamran Bakhshi, Saad bin Zafar Mahmood, Maryam Pyar Ali Lakhdir, Muhammad Rizwan Khan, Muhammad Tariq, Adil H. Haider

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Effective communication between physicians and patients plays an integral role in clinical care. Gaps in a physician’s ability to ensure effective communication, especially with patients from diverse backgrounds, are known causes of medical errors. This study explores the potential biases and disparities in patient-resident communication, which may influence a patient’s quality of care. This exploratory qualitative study was conducted at the largest academic medical center in Pakistan. Purposive sampling was used to approach participants from surgery, medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics and family medicine. Faculty, fellows and residents working in these departments and medical students in their fourth and fifth years of undergraduate education with prior experience of at least one month in these specialties during their clinical rotations were included. Focus group discussions (FGDs) lasting 45–60 minutes were conducted with each cohort of healthcare professionals separately, using a semi-structured interview guide. Sixty participants (19 males and 41 females, mean age: 32.9, SD: 10.9) took part in the study. Thematic analysis revealed five major themes. Four themes focused on residents’ biases and patient disparities hindering patient-resident communication: (1) patient-resident gender discordance (2) ethnicity and language barriers, (3) differing social class of the patient, and (4) challenging patient-resident interactions (patients resistant to treatment, exceedingly inquisitive and those with multiple attendants, etc.). The fifth theme identified the need for a communication skills curriculum in postgraduate medical education. Opposite gender and discordant socioeconomic/cultural backgrounds of patients pose a challenge to effective patient-physician communication. Self-identification and awareness of residents’ biases when interacting with patients can ensure their active elimination and improve their communication skills. Integrating these components in a standardized curriculum within postgraduate programs can enable resident-physicians to provide the same level of care and communicate more efficiently with patients of all backgrounds.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0288549
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10 October
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023


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