Patient-Provider Interaction: A Communication Accommodation Theory Perspective

Document Type: Viewpoint


1 The University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus, Malaysia

2 University of California, Santa Barbara, USA


This paper critically reviews studies that have interpretively invoked communication accommodation theory (CAT) for the study of patient-provider interaction. CAT’s sociolinguistic strategies—approximation, interpretability, interpersonal control, discourse management, and emotional expression—are succinctly introduced and their use in studies of patient-provider interaction discussed. The major findings of this analytical review are five-fold: (1) Both parties have problems approximating each other; (2) Both parties attempt to account for the other’s knowledge and disposition; (3) A struggle for control is evident, mainly from the provider’s side of the interaction; (4) Providers are better managers of discourse than patients; and (5) How or when providers express emotions has been the primary research focus, and not those of patients. This narrative review of the literature concludes that CAT is a productive approach to understanding linguistic as well as socio-psychological aspects of patient-provider health interactions. Noting providers’ and patients’ communicative behaviors, accounting for underlying motives and motivations, and attending to the sociolinguistic strategies guiding their behaviors may shed further light on the darker side of patient-provider interaction.