Effective communication has been linked to better health outcomes, higher patient satisfaction, and treatment adherence. Communication in ambulatory care contexts is even more crucial, as providers typically do not know patients' medical histories or have established relationships, conversations are time constrained, interruptions are frequent, and the seriousness of patients' medical conditions may create additional tension during interactions. Yet, health communication often unduly emphasizes information exchange-the transmission and receipt of messages leading to a mutual understanding of a patient's condition, needs, and treatments. This approach does not take into account the importance of rapport building and contextual issues, and may ultimately limit the amount of information exchanged. The authors share the perspective of communication scientists to enrich the current approach to medical communication in ambulatory health care contexts, broadening the understanding of medical communication beyond information exchange to a more holistic, multilayered viewpoint, which includes rapport and contextual issues. The authors propose a socio-ecological model for understanding communication in acute ambulatory care. This model recognizes the relationship of individuals to their environment and emphasizes the importance of individual and contextual factors that influence patient-provider interactions. Its key elements include message exchange and individual, organizational, societal, and cultural factors. Using this model, and following the authors' recommendations, providers and medical educators can treat communication as a holistic process shaped by multiple layers. This is a step toward being able to negotiate conflicting demands, resolve tensions, and create encounters that lead to positive health outcomes.
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