Feature Article

Effective clinician communication: building trust and improving treatment outcomes in pain management

Claire E Ashton-James



It is widely recognised that clinicians’ communication influences patients’ satisfaction with care. It is less well recognised that the trustworthiness that clinicians communicate to patients through their verbal and nonverbal behaviour has the potential to influence patients’ treatment outcomes.

Key Points

  • Effectiveness of chronic pain management interventions is limited by the degree to which consulting clinicians can establish trust with patients.
  • A patient makes inferences about a clinician’s trustworthiness based on the clinician’s communication of respect, empathy and competence.
  • Respect, empathy and competence are conveyed through both verbal and nonverbal communication behaviours.
  • A patient’s evaluation of a clinician’s trustworthiness influences the patient’s willingness to disclose psychosocial or other barriers to treatment effectiveness, and his or her expectations of treatment efficacy and motivation to adhere to the treatment.
  • In this way, trust-building communication behaviours are essential to the accurate diagnosis and effective treatment of chronic pain.

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