An anatomy of conflicts in primary care encounters: A multi-method study

Michael A. Weingarten, Nurit Guttman, Henry Abramovitch, Ruth Stashevsky Margalit, Debra Roter, Amitai Ziv, John Yaphe, Jeffrey M. Borkan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: Medical consultations are replete with conflicts, particularly in the current era of explicit and implicit rationing practices in health care organizations. Although such conflicts may challenge the doctor-patient relationship, little is known about them or their consequences. Aims: To systematically describe the nature of doctor-patient conflicts in medical encounters and the strategies physicians use when faced with conflicts. Methods: Analysis of 291 videotaped routine encounters with 28 general practitioners, using a novel adaptation of the Roter interaction analysis system software, provided quantitative empirical data on the conflicts and on the communication process. Seven focus groups (56 GPs) provided qualitative insights and guided the analysis. Results: Conflicts were identified in 40% of consultations; 21% of these were related to the rationing of health care resources. In conflictual encounters, both the opening and closing phases of the encounter were shorter than in non-conflictual encounters. In coping with resource rationing, the commonest strategy was to accept the dictates of the system without telling the patients about other options.When conflict of this type occurred, doctors showed more opposition to the patients rather than empathy. Conclusions: Doctors often face conflicts in their routine work, but resource-related conflicts are especially difficult and expose the dual loyalties of the doctor to the patient and to the system. Insights derived from this research can be used to design training interventions that improve doctors' efficacy in coping with conflicts and ultimately allow them to provide better patient care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-100
Number of pages8
JournalFamily Practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 30 2009


  • Conflict
  • Doctor-patient communication
  • Managed care programmes
  • Medical education
  • Physician-patient communication/relationship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice


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