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Improving Surgical Residents’ Bedside Manner

I was alerted to this Archives of Surgery article (full reference below) by MedPage Today:  Role Playing Boosts Surgical Residents’ Bedside Manner.

I find it intriguing.  Role playing gives you a chance for a “do-over” when you make a social or communication faux pas.

So much of medicine is communication.  Those of us who have been at it for years, deliver bad news differently (learned the hard way) now than we did previously.  You choose your words more carefully (though I still occasionally screw up).  Some words are more emotionally charged than others.  Some patients want more information than others.

The University of Connecticut Health Center conducted a prospective study  of a pilot project designed to  teach surgical residents patient-centered communication skills.

The study offered 44 general surgery residents the opportunity to participate in the three-part patient communication curriculum: A pre-test, training, and a post-test.  Only 30 completed all three parts.

The pre-test assessed general communication skills awareness of the resident while he/she delivered a new diagnosis of either breast or rectal cancer to a patient. The evaluation was done by a standardized patient instructor.

The training portion required residents to attend a 90-minute workshop that involved a lecture from a professor of surgery and formal instruction from the director of the center’s clinical skills program, followed by a 30-minute role-playing session.

The post-test assessment re-evaluated the residents by the standardized patient in a crossover fashion (those who previously participated in a breast cancer diagnosis now participated in a rectal cancer diagnosis and vice versa).

The study authors concluded:

Residents’ assessment of their patient communication skills indicates that there is an immediate need for a formal educational curriculum. 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. Such skills can be assessed over a longer period, perhaps by incorporating this model and assessments from year to year.

Surgical and nonsurgical residency programs will benefit by helping residents incorporate patient needs and opinions into the care team’s decision-making process. Principles such as emotional support, transition and continuity of care, provision of information and education, involvement of family and friends, and respect for patient values and preferences will form the basis of our educational series.


Pretraining and Posttraining Assessment of Residents’ Performance in the Fourth Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education Competency: Patient Communication Skills; Rajiv Y. Chandawarkar; Kimberly A. Ruscher; Aleksandra Krajewski; Manish Garg; Carol Pfeiffer; Rekha Singh; Walter E. Longo; Robert A. Kozol; Beth Lesnikoski; Prakash Nadkarni; Arch Surg. 2011;146(8):916-921.

*This blog post was originally published at Suture for a Living*

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