September 17, 2010

Teaching Doctors to ‘Listen’

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Doctors have a stigma for not being good listeners, yes they are incredibly intelligent, highly respected, and trusted by most, but doctors have a bad reputation when it comes to listening. This study shows that doctors can be trained to hone in on what exactly the patient it trying to say and use that effectively for treatment.

A previous study showed that doctors simply are not good at listening to the patient when he or she is talking about their personal life, which could be a clue to treatment of the patient. For example, a patient comes to the doctor saying that their asthma is worsening, "such a patient may simply need to have his inhaler dose increased", Alan Schwartz, associate professor of medical education and pediatrics at UIC College of Medicine and first author of the study was quoted as saying. If the doctor tunes into the patient's vibes and what he or she is trying to say, the doctor may learn that the patient has just lost its job and perhaps can't afford the medicine they were previously taking. In this scenario prescribing a higher dosage would do nothing, but if the doctor knew the patient's issues they could prescribe a less expensive inhaler.

For the last two years, fourth year medical students from the UIC Medical School were divided up into two groups, one group attended four short workshops, where they learned to recognize and respond to contextual clues such as, work problems, home problems, marriage problems, and personal problems, during a patient's examination, and the other group was not sent to these workshops. The two groups saw four of the same cases, where actors were trained to have some sort of personal problem affecting their treatment. The students were to act as doctors and diagnose the patient as well as coming up with a treatment plan. The group who did not attend the workshops only picked up on the contextual clues 25 percent of the time, while the group who had training picked up on contextual clues 66 percent of the time.

"Our workshop was not only effective at improving students' abilities to individualize care, but it focused specifically on that ability without affecting their other abilities as a doctor," said Schwartz. "Individualized care is something that can be taught and should be part of training doctors."

SOURCE: JAMA, published online September 16, 2010