Health education theory: An application to the process of patient - provider communication

Debra L.Roter, Judith A.Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Although the medical visit is widely acknowledged as an important event presenting unique opportunities for the modification of health beliefs and behaviors, health education theory has provided few explanatory mechanisms for understanding its communication process. The purpose of this paper is to explore a theoretical model loosely derived from social exchange and reciprocity theory for viewing the dynamics and consequences of patient-provider interaction during the medical encounter. We have elaborated this notion of reciprocity to suggest that provider behaviors within both the technical and socioemotional realm inspire parallel patient behaviors. For instance, a physician who is very informative may expect a patient to remember his instructions and comply with his recommendations. Further, a physician who is warm and friendly will inspire parallel patient attitudes in the socioemotional domain, such as friendliness and satisfaction. However, we believe that the reciprocity principle is only partially operative between domains. While an informative physician may be perceived as concerned and caring, merely being nice or caring, in the absence of indications of task performance (such as information giving), does not supply the evidence on competence that patients need to decide to attend to information or adhere to a therapeutic regimen. Our theory of reciprocal exchange in the medical visit is consistent with a consumerist perspective of patient-provider relations and with the activated patient philosophy of health education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-193
Number of pages9
JournalHealth education research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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