We investigated whether patient-centered communication skills can be taught to residents in Internal Medicine by using a time-limited behaviorally oriented intervention.
Residents working at the Department of Internal Medicine were randomly assigned to an intervention group (IG; N = 19) or a control group (CG; N = 23). In addition to 6 hours of standard medical education per week, the IG received specific communication training of 22.5 hours duration within a 6-month period. Initially and 10 months later, participants performed interviews with simulated patients. Interviews were rated by blinded raters who used the Maastricht History and Advice Checklist-Revised.
Compared with the CG, the IG improved substantially in many specific communication skills. Both groups improved in the "amount of medical information identified" and in the ability to "communicate about feasibility of treatment."
Patient-centered communication skills such as those presented in this intervention study can be taught. The ability to gain medical information and the readiness to communicate about aspects of medical treatment seem to improve with more professional experience; however, they also profit from the intervention.