Dr. Fred Kron ’75 delivers strong medicine for physicians’ ailing bedside manners

Poor communication a leading contributor to life-threatening medical errors, studies show

By Melissa Lynch, Clark University

It’s a scene that could play out at any hospital, any day: A young doctor nervously struggles to give a patient bad news.

“Robin, you have leukemia,” he informs the johnny-clad woman. She sputters her disbelief, but his response is not comforting. “I think you need some time to yourself — I’m going to step out now.”

She angrily rebukes him, then demands to leave the hospital.

“I’m sorry to hear that, but it’s your choice,” the doctor says. The uncomfortable exchange ends, but Robin doesn’t exit the room. Instead, she fades to black, her image disappearing from the computer screen that sits on a desk facing the physician.

Robin is a virtual human, programmed to see and hear the doctor, and to respond with a span of emotions. The doctor is in training to improve his ability to communicate vital information and reassure a patient who has been staggered by a difficult diagnosis.

As the session concludes, the doctor receives a diagnosis of his own: He needs more work.

MPathic-VR is a computer training program designed to build trust and empathy in the doctor-patient relationship — the brainchild of Dr. Fred Kron ’75, who has been on both sides of these uncomfortable conversations. When he was 16, his mother passed away after a battle with lung cancer. He also has survived two bouts with cancer, including one immediately following his graduation from Clark. As a patient, he learned how discouraging it can be when your doctor seems to ignore your concerns.

Kron first realized how little value is placed on doctor-patient interactions when he was a medical student in the late 1970s. Read more …

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