Training helps docs improve explanations, not general communication

You can teach communication improvements for specific cases, but not necessarily general communication skills, according to a new study published in the August Archives of Surgery.

According to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, communication skills are a core competency. However, surgical residents often lack formal curriculum in patient education and learn these communication skills on their own.

For the study, 44 surgical residents gave actor-patients a diagnosis of breast cancer or rectal cancer and then were scored by the "patients." In each scenario, residents played the physician (caregiver), the patient (the receiver of care), and the patient's spouse (observer), and then rated themselves.

"The goal of this project," the authors said, "was to teach surgical residents to incorporate patient-centered communication skills into their practice, providing emotional support, transition, and continuity of care, as well as information and education, involving family and friends and respecting patient values and differences."

Researchers found that this type of training improved the way physicians delivered diagnoses for specific cases, but not as much as general communication skills.

"Our results show that case-specific improvements seem more amenable to measurable improvement than general communications skills, at least with the limited short-term training that we used," the authors wrote. "Such skills can be assessed over a longer period, perhaps by incorporating this model and assessments from year to year."

In addition, researchers said this type of training could be adopted by other teaching hospitals or community health centers. With an eye on patient satisfaction scores, other hospitals might consider replicating such training programs.

"Without communication skills, even the best surgical training would be rendered ineffective," the authors concluded.

To learn more:
- read the press release
- read the U of Connecticut Health Center news brief
- read the study abstract

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