Why didn’t communication skills training work?

Can we train health professionals to be more compassionate? That’s a hypothesis tested by Dr. Timothy Gilligan, co-director of the Center for Excellence in Healthcare Communication at the Cleveland Clinic, and reported in JAMA.


391 internal medicine and 81 nurse practitioner trainees were enrolled in a randomised controlled trial of an 8-session, simulation-based, communication skills intervention (N = 232) or usual education (N = 240).  The study outcomes were patient-reported quality of communication about end-of-life care or quality of end-of-life care.

The eight sessions of training disappointingly had no impact on these patient-reported measures.

To learn more about the study read this report in the New York Times…

It’s an important piece of research from one of the most renowned centers for compassionate, patient-centred care. Why did this intervention fail? We have our own theories but we’d prefer to see your take on this important issue.

Post your comments below…


Image: “One to OneCommunication” by Wesley Fryer

One Response to “Why didn’t communication skills training work?”

  1. There is plenty of research to show that doctors can be taught to communicate well with patients (eg Fallowfield LJ) so this result makes me wonder at the length and quality of the teaching. Simply use of the most basic communication skills (beginning sentences with what, how, who, when, and, but only appropriately, why) would have greatly enhanced the consultation in the example given.

    Clinicians who are dragged kicking and screaming to communication skills training are liable to disrupt classes and learn nothing for the first day. If they can be dealt with (again, appropriately!) the class will settle and learn and, if they are allowed to continue, having accepted the rules, they may even learn more than most and end up shouting the praises of the course the loudest.
    (2009-2013 DH National Cancer Action Team ‘Connected’ Advanced Communication Skills Training – lay member, Expert Reference Group)

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