During what can often be a rush to provide patients with the art and science of medicine, it’s the art part—including communication, engagement and empathy—that can be the more challenging one to deliver. A learning module specially developed for medical residents provides practical advice to bridge the gap between patient and doctor.

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The pace and practical realities of modern health care, like wait times and coverage concerns, can start a patient-physician encounter on the wrong foot. It’s not just a question of a strained conversation. A frustrating lack of effective communication can undermine the clinical effectiveness of a visit. Unfortunately, it’s also likely to be an area in which residents receive too little training.

“The patient interview is your most frequent procedure and is crucial to the care you provide,” notes the module. “Keep in mind that the patient is interviewing you as well. Perhaps not formally, but the patient is deciding what they feel about you.”

Fortunately, the skills needed for better interactions with patients are teachable, testable in day-to-day encounters, and can be improved upon with practice. A 14-minute module from the AMA takes a step-by-step approach, offering simulated patient encounter vignettes to illustrate best practices.

“Building the Patient-Physician Relationship” is one of the AMA GME Competency Education Program offerings, which include dozens of courses that residents can access online, on their own schedule. The modules are available to residency institutions that have subscribed to the AMA’s program.

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Among the program’s experts are several who contributed to the AMA’s Health Systems Sciencetextbook, which draws insights from faculty at medical schools that are part of the Association’s Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium. 

Modules cover five of the six topics—patient care, practice-based learning and improvement, interpersonal and communication skills, professionalism, and system-based practice—within the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education’s core competency requirements. The sixth requirement, medical knowledge, is one that is typically addressed during clinical education.  

The module highlights two special capabilities—active listening and generative listening—that will help physicians project engagement and interest in the patient’s concerns, and overcome conflicts. The module also provides learners examples of verbal and nonverbal feedback to the patient.

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The module also looks at why patients might be challenging—start by always assuming they are not at their best mentally or physically—and, especially, what physicians can do about their own conduct in the face of someone who is anxious, frustrated and disgruntled.

“You can’t change people, but you can control your feelings and behavior,” counsels the module, which provides guidance on simple, highly actionable emotional grounding tips for physicians to work in to their daily routines.

Upon completion of the course, the learner will be able to:

  • Define what makes an encounter challenging.
  • List key assumptions that medical professionals should make when treating patients.
  • Identify how doctor’s emotional state affects the patient-physician interaction and relationship.
  • Explain why both satisfied and dissatisfied patients can be challenging.
  • Change their own approach for patients whom they typically find to be challenging.

The module also provides additional learning resources.

Visit the AMA GME Competency Education Program for more information on this and other offerings or to request a demo.

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