Healthcare Disruption Must Include Communications Training for Physicians January 2016

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iStock_000016285548XSmallIt was refreshing to read this Washington Post article, A Different Kind of Care Package, because it signified to me that future doctors are going beyond the computer with EMR, disease based guidelines and textbooks to understand more directly the patient’s experience of illness and to also embrace innovative ways to manage and lead healthcare teams.

At a time where the traditional model of healthcare delivery is being disrupted at many angles, it’s clear that the status quo is no longer sustainable and healthcare as we know it will drastically change.

And as a practicing physician for more than 35 years who has witnessed the erosion of a system that should put patients first, I commend the medical schools highlighted in this article for their innovative approaches.

Students at Penn State College of Medicine, for instance, are making home visits to learn about the “intractable factors” that can shape a person’s health.

“These doctors-to-be don’t know much about her illness, Crohn’s disease. They can’t prescribe her medications, order lab tests or admit her to a hospital. Instead, they’re here to learn something that most medical schools never teach but that matters as much: What’s in her fridge? Does she have a ride to an upcoming appointment? Can she afford her drugs and gluten-free diet?”

And Dell Medical School is adding a nine-month focus on health-care delivery at the time many medical schools would be sending their doctors on their first clinical rotations.

Finally, our medical schools are rethinking how medicine is taught after decades of focusing on “the science of medicine and the diagnosis and treatment of the sick person in front of them.”

However, as the article notes, physicians are increasingly responsible for helping to keep their patients out of the hospital.

While these new programs are certainly steps in the right direction, I caution medical schools not to lose sight of the vital need for training physicians in effective patient communications .

I have spent the majority of my career writing and speaking about how poor communication between physicians and their patients is detrimental to the delivery of quality patient care and the health care system in general.

In 2012 I founded the Drossman Center for Education and Practice of Biopsychosocial Care, fulfilling a passion of mine to improve doctor-patient relationships in a way that ultimately improves health care delivery and outcomes by achieving physician and patient satisfaction and reducing unnecessary health care costs.  Since that time we have had visitors who are medical trainees, practitioners, pharmacists, industry, academicians and even chairs of departments from all over world including the US, Asia, and Latin America, who return home to integrate these methods in their practices and many have given workshops at national and international meetings using these integrated methods. See the testimonials from visitors to learn of their experiences.

What we are trying to do at the Drossman Center is to communicate the basics of good communication skills to clinicians and patients so that a higher quality of information is obtained and is done in a fashion that builds and strengthens the relationship.

Through our preceptorship and mentoring programs clinicians at all stages of practice our visitors are able to observe at our center methods and skills they can bring back to their practice.   I encourage physicians to contact the Drossman Center to learn more about how our customized educational programs, resources and expertise can help their practices, medical centers and hospitals increase their efficiency, improve patient satisfaction and increase external funding for their health care programs.

It’s not what you do (in the amount of time available) but how you do it that makes the difference. I urge medical training programs to require such communications training for their physicians.

Douglas A. Drossman, MD