11/03/2011 02:41 pm ET Updated Jan 03, 2012

Computer Training Boosts Bedside Manner

By Katherine Harmon
(Click here for the original article and podcast)

“So often patients aren’t satisfied with the communication they have with their doctor. And yet I know that physicians care so much about their patients.” James Tulsky, director of the Duke Center for Palliative Care.

Even the most skilled doctors can have a poor bedside manner. And research has shown that when patients are more comfortable with their doctors, it can improve mental and physical wellbeing.

Long training sessions can boost doctors' communications skills, but finding the time and money for such instruction can be challenging. So Tulsky’s team developed a software program to streamline the path to empathy. “Communication is a quality measure like any other quality measure. And we have the ability to improve it and to measure the improvements that we make.”

Doctors who attended a one-hour lecture on communication and worked through the one-hour personalized computer program improved their patient interactions compared to those who only attended the lecture. The findings are described in the Annals of Internal Medicine. [James Tulsky et al, Enhancing communication between oncologists and patients with a computer-based training program]

“One of the most gratifying pieces of this research was that nearly all the doctors said that they are now changing their practice based on having used this intervention.”