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Learning soft skills

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 01 March 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e1070
  1. Rebecca Ghani, freelance journalist
  1. 1London

A US based centre aims to teach students how to improve consultation and communication skills

A good patient experience can encompass a whole range of factors: timely appointments, swift diagnosis, effective treatments, clean and comfortable environment—the checklist of tangible items goes on. But where does the softer stuff on the list come into this—a good bedside manner; listening; involving patients in decisions about their care; taking patient concerns seriously? Should these be as important as hard clinical skills? How can these be measured? And can they be taught?

An institution for change

A new institute in Chicago believes that these skills are vital to improve patient outcomes. Not only can good communication help patients feel psychologically better—confident in their care, able to ask questions, and be fully informed of their treatment—but there is also emerging evidence that it can affect better outcomes.

Matthew Sorrentino, professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, is involved in establishing the centre, the Bucksbaum Institute for Clinical Excellence, which is being set up after a $42m (£27m; €31m) donation in 2011.1

Dr Sorrentino explains some of the background to the philosophy and why he believes the doctor-patient relationship is so critical: “It’s important to communicate the nature of the illness or the disease to the patient; to be able to explain to them in easy terms the purposes of the treatment,” he explains. “Because the patient can then be very involved in their care; can better understand their illness; and can better understand their treatments. The better understanding a patient has of their treatments, the better outcomes we would expect—compliance with medications, compliance with lifestyle recommendations, for example.”

There are also indications that, as well as the proxy benefits, good communication and relationships may actually be beneficial independently. Dr Sorrentino explains: “There is …

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