A study of surgical residents found doctors are more able to convey and explain cancer diagnoses after receiving brief training in communication, but education did not improve physicians' perceived empathy. The research, published by the Archives of Surgery (subscription required), measured residents' ability to communicate with mock breast or rectal cancer patients on two scales, before and after training.
Training helps residents explain diagnoses: study
After training, residents' performed better on a communication checklist for patients receiving a cancer diagnosis. The median score increased favorably to 11 from 8.5 on a scale of zero to 13. Training included a lecture from a surgeon who went with his wife to her physician visits and has been a patient himself; formal communication instruction; and role playing.
However, the study found no significant change in performance on measures of empathy; the amount of jargon that residents use; residents' ability to question and summarize information; and the pace of the visit. The median score was 61.5 after training, compared with 58 prior to the two-hour education. Residents did see a significant gain for one of 16 items measured concerning patient support, but the measure could be improved with an “easily memorized checklist,” the study said.
“Factors such as lack of jargon, verbal facilitation skills, and effective summarizing can also be taught,” the researchers wrote. “However, it is likely that sustained coaching with repeated practice, rather than a one-time session, will be required to see improvement in performance.”
The study included 44 surgical residents within the University of Connecticut Health Center surgery department; 30 provided complete data for all sessions.
Researchers' prognosis was less certain when it came to improving residents' empathy, non-verbal communication and concern for others' views, which “have a significant innate component, often involving attitudes, and are more difficult to change,” the paper said.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.