Published: Best Practices in Relational Skills Training in Medicine

Academic Pediatrics just published an article I wrote together with Dr. Horace DeLisser, Associate Dean for Professionalism and Humanism at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. In the paper, we present a set of best practices for teaching relational skills to medical students and to physicians, in order to help them establish stronger, more supportive relationships with their patients and with colleagues. We did our best to make the point that excellent relational skills training should be:

  • Experiential (utilizing flipped classroom approach, workshops, small group practice and debriefs)
  • Based on Data-Driven Feedback (ideally offering real-time feedback to learners)
  • Continuous (begin with the first year of training and continue through clinical years and on to postgraduate years, including continuing medical education and incorporation into the maintenance of certification requirements.)
  • Coherent (using consistent language for training, assessment, and feedback by all supervisors and trainers who come into contact with a learner)
  • Comprehensive (addressing learners’ attitudes, perceived norms, and self-efficacy regarding interpersonal communication)
  • Taught by Competent Teachers (carefully selecting the right trainers, and offering them advanced training in order to ensure they have the highest level of competence).

Here is the abstract:

Medical providers’ ability to form strong therapeutic alliances with patients is an essential clinical skill that is associated with a higher quality of care and improved provider well- being. However, comparatively few medical providers exhibit adequate relational skills, which serve to convey respect, communicate caring, and build trust between the medical provider and the patient. A growing number of medical training programs and continuing medical education programs have begun to incorporate relational skills training, but the results have been highly variable in terms of training methods and effect. To support administrators who are considering the implementation (or improvement) of relational skills training in their organization, we provide a set of best practices for rela- tional skills training, in the basis of a review of the literature and on our experience as clinical educators, and show the appli- cation of these best practices through a case study. We conclude with a discussion of challenges for implementing a high-quality relational skills training program, policy-level solutions for these challenges, and recommendations for future research.

Writing this paper has been a wonderful opportunity for reflection, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. DeLisser in this field. I would love to hear what you think about this material.

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