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Improving Doctor-Patient Relations

Improving Doctor-Patient RelationsU.S. medical schools are focusing more on communication -- and Tufts is at the forefront of the teaching trend. Boston.

Boston [10.08.03] Beginning next fall, medical students will not only have to pass their boards to become a licensed physician - they'll have to ace a new test on doctor-patient relations as well. More than a decade in the making, the new requirement examines how well doctors communicate with their patients - and puts pressure on medical schools to prepare their students. Tufts School of Medicine is already at the head of the education trend, starting with a course the first week that Tufts medical students arrive.

"Tufts is one of a dozen medical schools pushing communication skills to the forefront of medical training," reported NPR's All Things Considered. "It's estimated about 75 percent of all U.S. med schools are gradually doing the same."

› Listen to the All Things Considered report [here]

Students in their first year at Tufts medical school are required to take a year-long course on doctor-patient relations, which gives them a jumpstart on gaining skills in this important component of healthcare.

"[Tufts] Professor Jody Schindelheim says right from the get-go, med students learn that it's their job to find out what patients are really going through and to deal with difficult information," reported NPR.

A special course in communication and interviewing skills,, says the Tufts expert, is an important way students are learning to talk and listen with patients effectively.

"In this course, we teach them how to begin to ask personal, intimate, private questions," Schindelheim told All Things Considered. "And with that, they're taken aback - a whole wave of feelings, which hopefully through the course they will begin to get a sense of how to contain, how to deal with, how to structure."

During a practice patient examination, which NPR broadcast as part of their report, Tufts first year medical student Louis Cohen practiced methods of communication.

"I have no set agenda with these questions," Cohen said to the patient. "Everything's just a conversation to find out more about what your experience has been as a patient."

Experts say that rehearsals such as these -- taking place at the beginning of medical school -- will help students cement the importance of doctor-patient relations.

Schindelheim told NPR that he hopes to reinforce the value of good communication "before students get exposed to the different diagnoses, all the technical stuff, and some of the culture of medicine - which tends to beat it out of them a bit in the service of efficiency and function."

As NPR reported, "Dr. Schindelheim says the more he can get across the human side of being a doctor at this early stage, the better off students will be down the line."

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