Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Doctors can learn empathy through a computer-based tutorial

Date:
November 1, 2011
Source:
Duke University Medical Center
Summary:
Cancer doctors want to offer a sympathetic ear, but sometimes miss the cues from patients. To help physicians better address their patients' fears and worries, a researcher has developed a new interactive training tool.

Cancer doctors want to offer a sympathetic ear, but sometimes miss the cues from patients. To help physicians better address their patients' fears and worries, a Duke University researcher has developed a new interactive training tool.

Related Articles


The computer tutorial includes feedback on the doctors' own audio recorded visits with patients, and provides an alternative to more expensive courses.

In a study appearing Nov. 1, 2011, in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the research team found that the course resulted in more empathic responses from oncologists, and patients reported greater trust in their doctors -- a key component of care that enhances quality of life.

"Earlier studies have shown that oncologists respond to patient distress with empathy only about a quarter of the time," said James A. Tulsky, MD, director of the Duke Center for Palliative Care and lead author of the study.

"Often, when patients bring up their worries, doctors change the subject or focus on the medical treatment, rather than the emotional concern. Unfortunately, this behavior sends the message, 'This is not what we're here to talk about.'"

Tulsky said cancer doctors have many reasons for avoiding emotionally fraught conversations. Some worry that the exchanges will cause rather than ease stress, or that they don't have time to address non-medical concerns.

Neither is true, Tulsky said, noting his research shows that asking the right questions during patient visits can actually save time and enhance patient satisfaction.

"Oncologists are among the most devoted physicians -- passionately committed to their patients. Unfortunately, their patients don't always know this unless the doctors articulate their empathy explicitly," Tulsky said. "It's a skill set. It's not that the doctors are uncaring, it's just that communication needs to be taught and learned."

The current gold standard for teaching empathy skills is a multiday course that involves short lectures and role-playing with actors hired to simulate clinical situations. Such courses are time-consuming and expensive, costing upwards of $3,000 per physician.

Tulsky's team at Duke developed a computer program that models what happens in these courses. The doctors receive feedback on pre-recorded encounters, and are able to complete the intervention in their offices or homes in a little more than an hour, at a cost of about $100.

To test its effectiveness, Tulsky and colleagues enrolled 48 doctors at Duke, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Durham, NC, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The research team audio-recorded four to eight visits between the doctors and their patients with advanced cancer.

All the doctors then attended an hour-long lecture on communication skills. Half were randomly assigned to receive a CD-ROM tutorial, the other half received no other intervention.

The CD taught the doctors basic communication skills, including how to recognize and respond to opportunities in conversations when patients share a negative emotion, and how to share information about prognosis. Doctors also heard examples from their own clinic encounters, with feedback on how they could improve. They were asked to commit to making changes in their practice and then reminded of these prior to their next clinic visits.

Afterward, all the doctors were again recorded during patient visits, and the encounters were assessed by both patients and trained listeners who evaluated the conversations for how well the doctors responded to empathic statements.

Oncologists who had not taken the CD course made no improvement in the way they responded to patients when confronted with concerns or fears. Doctors in the trained group, however, responded empathically twice as often as those who received no training. In addition, they were better at eliciting patient concerns, using tactics to promote conversations rather than shut them down.

"Patient trust in physicians increased significantly," Tulsky said, adding that patients report feeling better when they believe their doctors are on their side. "This is exciting, because it's an easy, relatively inexpensive way to train physicians to respond to patients' most basic needs."

Although the CD course is not yet widely available, efforts are underway to develop it for broader distribution.

In addition to Tulsky, study authors include: Robert M. Arnold; Stewart C. Alexander; Maren K. Olsen; Amy S. Jeffreys; Keri L. Rodriguez; Celette Sugg Skinner; David Farrell; Amy P. Abernethy; and Kathryn I. Pollak.

Funding for the study came from the National Cancer Institute. Study authors reported no conflicts.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Duke University Medical Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. James A. Tulsky, Robert M. Arnold, Stewart C. Alexander, Maren K. Olsen, Amy S. Jeffreys, Keri L. Rodriguez, Celette Sugg Skinner, David Farrell, Amy P. Abernethy, Kathryn I. Pollak. Enhancing Communication Between Oncologists and Patients With a Computer-Based Training Program: A Randomized Trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2011; 155 (9): 593-601 [link]

Cite This Page:

Duke University Medical Center. "Doctors can learn empathy through a computer-based tutorial." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 November 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111031220247.htm>.
Duke University Medical Center. (2011, November 1). Doctors can learn empathy through a computer-based tutorial. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111031220247.htm
Duke University Medical Center. "Doctors can learn empathy through a computer-based tutorial." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111031220247.htm (accessed December 19, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Friday, December 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Kids Die While Under Protective Services

Kids Die While Under Protective Services

AP (Dec. 18, 2014) As part of a six-month investigation of child maltreatment deaths, the AP found that hundreds of deaths from horrific abuse and neglect could have been prevented. AP's Haven Daley reports. (Dec. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dads-To-Be Also Experience Hormone Changes During Pregnancy

Dads-To-Be Also Experience Hormone Changes During Pregnancy

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) A study from University of Michigan researchers found that expectant fathers see a decrease in testosterone as the baby's birth draws near. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) Harvard researchers found children whose mothers were exposed to high pollution levels in the third trimester were twice as likely to develop autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
UN: Up to One Million Facing Hunger in Ebola-Hit Countries

UN: Up to One Million Facing Hunger in Ebola-Hit Countries

AFP (Dec. 17, 2014) Border closures, quarantines and crop losses in West African nations battling the Ebola virus could lead to as many as one million people going hungry, UN food agencies said on Wednesday. Duration: 00:52 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins