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20-02-2013 | Legal medicine | Article

Advanced communication skills may not improve clinician empathy

Abstract

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medwireNews: Attending an advanced communication skills training (ACST) course may not improve clinicians' ability to empathize with their palliative care patients, according to the results of a UK study.

Patient reports on the Consultation and Relational Empathy (CARE) Measure show no significant differences before and after clinicians attended the 3-day ACST course.

"The subtle effects of communication skills training may be overshadowed by practical problems inherent to the clinic or the nature of the patient's diagnosis," write Louise Johnson (Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK) and colleagues in the European Journal of Cancer Care.

They add that when care is palliative, clinician satisfaction has been shown to decrease significantly, which is likely to have an impact on the quality of communication.

A total of 21 healthcare professionals (HCPs) and 1103 patients took part in the study, assessing interactions using the CARE Measure during a 4-week period before the clinician attended the ACST course and 1-3 months afterwards. Nine of the 21 HCPs acted as controls by completing the CARE questionnaire without attending an ACST course.

The CARE Measure is a 10-item questionnaire with questions relating to patient satisfaction with the HCP, such as "How satisfied are you with the length of time you spent with the healthcare professional?" Answers are rated on a 5-point Likert scale, with 1 being "poor" and 5 being "excellent."

The mean age of the patients was 59 years, and baseline CARE scores for HCPs were a mean of 45.7 in the ACST group and 44.6 in the control group.

After ACST training, CARE scores did not vary significantly between clinicians who had undergone ACST training and those who had not, report Johnson et al.

While there was a positive correlation between mean CARE scores and consultation length and familiarity with the clinician, the differences between baseline and follow-up measures of these scores were not significant for those who underwent ACST training.

Furthermore, while significantly more patients in the control group reported being satisfied with the length of time they spent with the clinician at follow-up compared with at baseline, no such difference existed among patients reporting on clinicians in the intervention group.

Rather than a "one size fits all" approach, future courses "could target specific areas of deficits in communication skills, such as breaking bad news or enhancing empathetic skills," concludes the research team. "Further research is needed to continue evaluating whether patients are actually benefiting from their HCPs undertaking communication skills training."

By Sarah Guy, medwireNews Reporter

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