If you’re a patient, can you recall a conversation you had with your doctor that wish could have gone better?
If you’re a doctor or nurse, do you recall conversations with patients or coworkers that you wish you had managed better?
The answer to each of the above questions is almost undoubtedly, “Yes”
It is well known that communication is the most important part of a medical visit, and good communication skills are essential for high quality, cost-effective and safe medical practice.
Doctors must know how to listen to and talk with their patients, to express empathy and to create trust and rapport. They must also know how to interact with healthcare teams – with nurses, other doctors, social workers, psychologists, pharmacists and others.
But having that level of professional skill is not intuitive. Think how most of us struggle every day, just to talk with friends, bosses, coworkers and loved ones. The trickier the subject matter, the harder the discussion. And when the stakes are high, it gets harder still.
Now imagine that most every conversation you have can affect a person’s health, or influence their lives, for good or bad – and imagine that every patient brings his or her own unique values and culture into the mix. You can see the difficulty and imagine the high level of skill a doctor must possess to drive good health outcomes.
It is also well known: when communication between doctor and patient fails, serious problems result.
Poor communication skill is associated with lower levels of patient satisfaction, higher rates of complaints, poorer health outcomes, and an increased risk of malpractice claims. Communication failure also results in missed diagnoses, excessive testing, repeat ER visits, unnecessary hospitalizations, and unwanted (and sometimes inappropriate) treatments.
In the hospital setting, poor communication is consistently one of the top three contributors to preventable harm and death. Every year, 4-8 million patients suffer serious, preventable harm, and 400,000 die from events that trace back in part to poor communication. The estimated cost to the US medical system is between $73.5 to $98 billion dollars every year.
Let’s imagine a doctor, a woman or man who is smart and basically good-hearted. We know that communication is a critically important skill for that doctor to take the absolute best care of her or his patients. We also know that mastery of skills for the good of their patients is a powerful motivator for doctors.
So how do we currently train doctors? We assign them reading, give them PowerPoint lectures, show them videos. We stage simulations in small groups, let them interact with one another or with paid actors who are trained to play the role of patients. We videotape them or shadow them in actual patient encounters.
Most of this simply does not work. In the best case, evidence of training effectiveness and skill transfer doesn’t exist, or it’s limited at best. (Skill transfer means that the skills you learn are persistent, and that you can draw off them later, in new situations.)
That’s why we created our company and our technology. Unlike current training methods, MCI’s technology offers healthcare providers the first-ever communication training tool with strong, NIH-funded research evidence, proving its effectiveness in developing advanced communication skills. Moreover, our research shows that the skills learned through interaction with our technology improve the more you use it, and that learned skills transfer into new situations.
Here’s what it looks like in use, with a doctor training to break some rather bad news to a patient: