Better communication goal of doctor training

The Faculty of Medicine is developing a new training program to help doctors in B.C. communicate more effectively with patients.

"Patients who take a more active, informed role in their own care can respond better to treatment," says Prof. William Godolphin of the Dept. of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, who is leading the project.

Called Informed Shared Decision Making (ISDM), the project will immediately begin assessing the communication needs of both doctors and patients to ensure the training program is effective. The program will offer advanced communication skills for medical students at UBC, continuing medical education for doctors and communication skills for patients.

Some 80 per cent of the complaints heard by the College of Physicians and Surgeons arise from a lack of communication, Godolphin says.

Last year, about 15 undergraduate medical students helped to conduct surveys, focus groups and patient interviews to learn where the communication gaps were. The information was used to design pilot communication courses that will be delivered later this year to medical faculty and students.

The program will be evaluated and refined, with courses for doctors starting in spring 1998. Courses for patients are planned for next year, likely in conjunction with disease-related organizations offering patient education.

The UBC project team, which includes medical educator Angela Towle and sociologist Rachael McKendry, combines a range of expertise including ethics, law, linguistics and psychology. It is supported by a management committee of health communicators and educators, and student and faculty representatives from the Faculty of Medicine.

A variety of continuing education formats such as small group workshops with doctors and patients will be tested to determine how to deliver the information, says Godolphin.

Once the B.C. program has been evaluated, the team expects to launch similar programs across Canada.

The project is funded by grants from the B.C. Medical Services Foundation, UBC's Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund and a three-year $137,000 grant from the Max Bell Foundation, a national agency funding medical education.