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Are Training Groups Useful for Patient-Provider Communication?

Provider efficacy with patient-provider communication improved following a one-day training event.

patient-provider communication

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- A one-day training session could be the key to improving patient-provider communication across a hospital or healthcare facility, according to research published in the journal Patient Experience.

Patient-provider communication has emerged as a critical aspect of patient care, as communication has been tied to good patient experiences, patient safety, and other core aspects of value-based care. As a result, many industry leaders have been calling on healthcare organizations to supplement their efforts for patient-provider communication training.

“Communication skills training (CST) has been well documented to improve patient satisfaction, outcomes and safety,” the researchers explained. “It also has been shown to decrease physician burnout, improve medical interviewing skills, lower malpractice claims and increase provider satisfaction with visits.”

Although CST courses have been deemed useful for improving the patient experience, these courses are rare fixtures in medical settings. Many medical schools are adopting communications and empathy classes into their curricula, but few clinicians have opportunities to learn following medical school graduation. This may be because of cost of CST courses or extensive course time commitments – some training courses can last several days or several weeks.

Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center, the University of Iowa Carver School of Medicine, and New York-Presbyterian Hospital developed a CST course that could be completed within 7.5 hours – about one work day.

The researchers enlisted the help of the American Academy on Communication in Health Care (AAHC) to form the curriculum. Twelve physicians from various medical specialties participated in curriculum design. The curriculum included rapport setting, eliciting patient concerns, agenda setting, empathy, shared decision-making, and difficult communication scenarios.

The researchers tested the CST course effectiveness using a pre-post survey administered six weeks following course completion. The 10 main points of the survey included:

  • Satisfaction with patient communication
  • Eliciting patient concerns
  • Empathy
  • Awareness of body language
  • Patient teach-back techniques
  • Asking patients about understanding of conditions
  • Satisfaction with rapport with patients
  • Satisfaction with patient visits
  • Struggles with time management and efficiency
  • Recognition of importance for communication skills training

An analysis of 161 participant responses showed that the CST course made improvements in nine of 10 of those domains. The CST course did not spur improvements in appointment time management and efficiency.

“Our findings show that improvement in self-efficacy can occur through a one-day course and among a mix of physician specialties,” the researchers said.

“Since higher self-efficacy is related to more successful performance of a learned skill, this improvement in self-efficacy should translate into a more successful application of the communication skills learned in our CST workshop,” the team added. “Better communication skills by physicians should also lead to the associated improvements to both physician well-being and also to patient satisfaction, outcomes, and safety noted in many studies.”

The survey analysis did reveal some caveats. The CST course was more effective in improving communication skills for providers who typically spend less time interacting with patients, a phenomenon the researchers said they want to investigate further.

Additionally, the analysis showed that CST courses may be key in reducing provider burnout. Aiding providers in one of the more difficult but rewarding aspects of their jobs will help drive more job satisfaction, the researchers said.

The main advantage of this particular CST course was its timeliness, the researchers asserted. Delivering key communication skills in a one-day workshop is essential, as providers and hospitals continue to be strapped for both time and cash.

“Short, one-day, hospital-wide, multispecialty CST courses for attending physicians, even when mandated, can be an effective option to increase self-efficacy related to communicating with patients,” the researchers concluded. “This is particularly important for physician engagement efforts and when time and hospital resources preclude the feasibility of longer multi-day courses or specialty specific courses.”

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