Editor’s Note: This column was provided by the Doctors Company, the exclusively endorsed medical malpractice carrier for the Society of Hospital Medicine. Neither SHM nor Frontline Medical Communications was involved in its production.
In medical school, students are trained on skills that will make them better future physicians, team members, and care givers. It’s a curious thing: Once we make headway into our medical careers and our days are filled with patient visits and paperwork, we rarely have the opportunity to assess our skill sets in the same way, despite the fact that new technologies and approaches to treatment have emerged since many of us attended medical school.
As a hospitalist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, I’m part of a team that cares for moderately to severely ill patients at a major academic institution. I’m also a physician advisor, and I have the pleasure of teaching some of the youngest and brightest medical students, interns, and residents at various stages of their careers. I consider this the best part of my work, so I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I’m a firm believer in the importance of continuous learning.
That’s why I was so excited when I had the chance to participate in three standardized patient encounters training scenarios designed for me and my 22 hospitalist colleagues to improve our communication skills; this training was funded by a grant from the Doctors Company Foundation. A standardized patient encounter is essentially a live simulation in a clinical setting with trained actors.
To start the simulation, a physician is given a short prompt about the patient scenario. They may also be provided with some basic information, such as a diagnosis or a relevant imaging study, prior to entering the room. Once the testing center provides a signal, physicians are allowed to enter the room. An introduction of our role on the medical team is provided, and a discussion ensues. The actors provide relevant history, incorporate true emotional response to questioning, and display any behavioral or physical prompts that a real patient would. This allows physicians to react in real time to the needs of the patient. The use of standardized patients can also be adapted to desired testing scenarios, which might deal with issues like communication, clinical reasoning, or establishing a differential diagnosis.
Like many hospitals, we have a program in place aimed at assessing how we educate students and younger physicians. But Mount Sinai is the first hospital in New York that has established a program designed specifically to assess and address some of the unique communication challenges we face as hospitalists to improve patient care.
As hospitalists, we’ve never met patients or families before beginning conversations at critical points of care. It takes sensitivity and particular thoughtfulness to create rapport and share substantial information with a patient even without having a prior relationship.