Patient Care

Actors Help Health-Care Providers Develop Better Patient Communication Skills


Hospitalists and ED physicians at Newton Medical Center in New Jersey recently participated in an improvised, interactive learning experience with actors who portrayed problematic patients. “Developing Doctor-Patient Relations through Better Communication” is a curriculum to test and teach communication skills for doctors that was created by Anthony Orsini, MD, a neonatologist at Morristown Medical Center, Newton’s sister facility in the Atlantic Health System. Dr. Orsini founded the Breaking Bad News Foundation ( more than a decade ago to help health professionals impart bad medical news to patients and families.

Physicians role-play with actors in such difficult scenarios as imparting a troubling diagnosis to a patient who does not want to hear it. This interaction is viewed remotely by instructors from the foundation and by peers, who then meet with the doctor to go over the videotaped encounter regarding its effectiveness, spoken messages, body language, and other communications.

The project to improve staff communication skills is enhancing teamwork between Newton’s hospitalists and emergency doctors, according to David Stuhlmiller, MD, the hospital’s director of emergency medicine.

Larry Beresford is a freelance writer in San Francisco.


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