We need to revolutionize conversations between doctors and patients
Regarding the article “Medical schools aim to make curricula mirror the real world” (July 24, p. 20), I want to praise the National Transformation Network, which is focusing on character and caring as well as competence in medical school curriculum. Each year, at Henry Ford Health System, we train more than 1,800 future physicians. At Henry Ford Hospital alone we train more than 900 medical students and more than 675 residents and fellows in 50 accredited programs every year. We have found that there is a big gap in clear and compassionate communication between trainees and patients and their families.
The gap, however, is not exclusive to trainees. Through our patient engagement data, we know that many of our physicians struggle with clear, compassionate communication. As a result, we have started a Center for Physician Communication and Peer Support. Our goal isn’t to “tweak” how doctors communicate. We want to revolutionize the conversations that occur in healthcare settings, making them eminently more patient-focused with a foundation that is guided by empathy and compassion.
Our medical director of care experience, Dr. Rana Awdish, is the physician leader and passionate advocate around this transformation. Her credibility for this work comes from her experience as a patient during a long and traumatic illness when she suffered emotional harm from lack of empathy by both attending physicians and residents at her own hospital. Awdish writes about her journey and inspiration to become immersed in this work in the book In
Shock, which will be published this fall. She provides a vivid description of how it feels to be on the receiving end of comments such as: “She’s circling the drain” or “She’s trying to die on us.”
We listened to Awdish’s “patient voice” and have activated a comprehensive plan rooted in effective, empathetic communication. Good communication reduces patients’ psychological distress, lessens physical symptoms, increases adherence to treatments and results in higher satisfaction with care. Additionally, better communication skills are associated with reduced clinician burnout and fewer malpractice claims.
Having medical school students gain a deeper understanding of the need to communicate with clarity and compassion is critical not only to their success but, ultimately, the physical, psychological and emotional healing of our patients.
Dr. William A. Conway CEO Henry Ford Medical Group Detroit