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The NSPA Blog

Clinical Encounters: Where Communication Falls Short

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Posted on March 13th, 2018 by Teri Dreher, under Clinical Trends, Healthcare Reform, Patient Advocacy, Something New

According a report by Kaiser Health News, the way we teach doctors to talk about death (and other tough topics) is changing

This is a good thing. In traditional US medicine, doctors are trained so highly in clinical practices that their communication skills are left lacking. Good communication is important for every challenge in life, but in circumstances of death and dying, good communication is more than important. It’s vital. It’s health communication.

That’s why at the Oregon Health & Science University, graduation requirements are changing to encompass better health communication. Health communication, loosely defined, is the study and practice of communication interventions aimed at improving health care.

Why we need to change

Last year, I completed my Master’s degree in Health Communication. When I explained to a friend in medical school what my degree was all about, she looked at said, “Oh. So you’re one of the people that make my job hard.” She was half joking, but her reaction was telling of this disconnect between medicine and communication. I would never go so far as to say that clinicians lack empathy. There’s a reason people go into this field, and with the cost of school loans and lower salaries for doctors, it’s hard to say it’s all about the payout. By and by, physicians face burn out from how much they’re required to know. I get it. But when we look at patient engagement and satisfaction scores across the US, it’s clear that we have a lot of room for improvement. Better communication should be implemented in both med school programs and undergraduate classes alike. If future physicians were taught better communication skills at an earlier age, it would take away pressure to learn the skills later.

A model to follow

The Oregon Health and Science University program is the first of its kind to require compassionate communication competency. This is huge. Teaching doctors how to talk about death in a way that reflects understanding and empathy helps everyone. It shouldn’t be viewed as just another item on a checklist. Rather, this sort of training should be viewed as a way to help. Doctors stand to avoid emotional burn out that frequently comes from not processing loss.

It will be interesting to see how other programs begin to implement this sort of training. In the meantime, if you ever feel you’re dealing with a doctor who lacks empathy, consider hiring a patient advocate. We’ll go with you to visits and make sure that you feel like someone is on your side and has your back.

To check out this article from Kaiser Health News, look here.

With over 36 years of clinical experience in Critical Care nursing, home based health care and expertise as a cardiovascular nurse clinician, Teri is well acquainted with the complexities of the modern healthcare system. She has served as a nursing leader, mentor, educator, and consistent patient advocate throughout her career in some of the best hospitals across the country. Her passion to keep the patient at the center of the model of nursing care led her to incorporate NShore Patient Advocates, LLC in 2011, serving clients throughout the northern suburbs of Chicago.

For a no-cost 30 minute initial consultation, please call 847-612-6684 or click here to fill out our online callback request form.