Hospitals hire actors to improve patient satisfaction, communication

Stony Brook (N.Y.) University Medical Center finds that playacting (using actors as patients) improves its staff's performance in real life, HealthLeaders Media reported. The hospital uses the approach to teach doctors, nurses and other providers how to keep patients satisfied, improving the overall experience.

"We have actors pretending to be patients, and these four-hour sessions are scenario-based for nurses specifically to hone their communication skills," Michael Maione, Stony Brook's director of customer relations told HealthLeaders.

Playacting focuses on improving patient-provider communication, as recent research has found a link between better communication and higher patient safety and satisfaction scores.

Such scores are becoming a top priority for hospitals now that patient satisfaction will determine 30 percent of the incentive payments under the value-based purchasing program set to kick in this October.

The playacting approach to improving patient care has been gaining popularity among hospitals and medical schools throughout the country. For instance, Creighton University's School of Medicine in Omaha, Neb., uses "standardized patients" (SP) to give medical students hands-on experience in diagnosing patients, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

New York City's Mount Sinai School of Medicine was one the first U.S. hospitals to hire trained, professional actors as SPs. Interested actors perform two contrasting monologues, and if chosen, attend a call-back audition that involves group improv, according to Mount Sinai.

Mount Sinai makes SPs part of teaching and assessment practices because it allows the hospital to "provide a safe environment in which healthcare professionals can practice, receive feedback and reflect upon the essential skills for caring for patients," it said on its website.

However, not all pretend patients are human. Thanks to a researcher at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, virtual humans with symptoms of clinical psychological disorders can be used to train therapists.

To learn more:
- read the HealthLeaders article
- here's the World-Herald Staff article
- here's the Mount Sinai School of Medicine website