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22-05-2012 | Psychology | Article

‘Chit-chat’ changes dialysis outcomes


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MedWire News: Chatting casually with patients who are undergoing hemodialysis may be an effective way of improving treatment outcomes, research shows.

The findings, which were presented at the National Kidney Foundation 2012 Spring Clinical Meetings held in Washington DC, showed that talking to patients in a conversational manner improved their blood work and increased patient satisfaction scores, even if the discussion lasted only 5 minutes.

"The length of the conversation did not seem to be a factor as much as the fact we stopped to talk at all! We found that just 'talking' about non-treatment issues was positive," lead researcher Judith Beto from Loyola University in Illinois, USA told MedWire News.

Chronic hemodialysis education may result in boredom and disinterest, meaning patients may struggle with noncompliance secondary to depression, explain Beto and team.

"Talking control" is a cognitive behaviour, similar to befriending, which has been studied in depressed older populations in the primary care setting, say the researchers, who believe their findings are the first to use the technique in a dialysis population.

The team investigated the effects of talking control in 50 kidney disease patients, aged an average of 57.4 years, who had been treated with hemodialysis for a mean of 4.2 years.

The therapy was conducted by health professionals who stopped by once a week for informal chats with the patients while they were undergoing hemodialysis. The conversations lasted 5 to 10 minutes in 31 patients and 20 to 30 minutes in 18 patients, and were held over a 12-week period.

The health educators talked generally with the patients about living with hemodialysis but without intending to cause an education change, and without setting any specific education goals.

The team found that after 12 weeks, 82% of the patients either met or exceeded their target blood work values, compared with 66% prior to the talking control intervention.

In addition, the mean patient satisfaction scores rose from 85% to 93%, report Beto et al.

"We believe that anyone can try this with success as part of standard of care," said Beto.

"Take the number of patients you have and divide by the number of staff you decide how you want to do it within your staffing constraints. Anything is better than nothing!"

The researchers say they plan to continue to apply the talking control over the coming summer and to gather more qualitative data from both staff and patients to perhaps gain greater understanding.

By Sally Robertson

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