Patient-doctor communication is perhaps the most significant component of a patient’s visit; yet many physicians receive limited training to develop these critical communication skills.
“Communication skills are our most important skill in working with patients. It’s how we create relationships and identify patient concerns,” said Reid Blackwelder, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). “Unfortunately, it’s not something that all health care providers are comfortable doing, although I do see changes coming.”
Informed conversations about what care patients may—and may not—need is the core principle of the Choosing Wisely campaign. To this end, the ABIM Foundation funded Drexel University College of Medicine to create education modules to enhance physician communication skills based on recommendations from nine medical specialty societies participating in Choosing Wisely, including AAFP.
“I don’t treat average patients. I treat individuals, so communication skills are absolutely critical to help individualize these recommendations,” said Blackwelder.
The scenario-based modules depict conversations between physicians and patients using the Choosing Wisely lists of things to question as a starting point. The modules address situations physicians commonly encounter—such as patient requests for an MRI for back pain, antibiotics for sinusitis, CT scans for head trauma in children and pre-operative stress tests—and provide specific recommendations on how physicians can engage their patients in conversations about the risks and benefits of these tests or treatments.
“The moment you do any test, there’s a potential cascade of more tests, which has more risk and more cost,” said Blackwelder. “Choosing Wisely is going a long way toward helping physicians rethink what we do. We’ve heard very strong support and enthusiasm from our members.”
AAFP was one of the first nine medical specialty societies to publish their list of “Things Physicians and Patients Should Question” in April 2012. Feedback from its members led AAFP to publish 10 additional recommendations of overused tests and procedures by the close of 2013. To ensure family physicians are comfortable engaging their patients in these conversations, AAFP is disseminating information on the physician education modules through their journal, the American Family Physician, which is distributed to all residents, medical students and members.
“[The Choosing Wisely campaign] reinforces our ability to have discussions, not just with patients, but within the system,” said Blackwelder.
- ABIM Foundation*
- American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology
- American Academy of Family Physicians
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- American College of Cardiology
- American College of Physicians
- American College of Radiology
- American Gastroenterological Association
- American Society of Nephrology
- American Society of Nuclear Cardiology
*The ABIM Foundation’s module was designed for any physician to complete, regardless of their specialty.