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Bedside Manner Enters the 21st Century

For doctors the importance of a good “bedside manner” has been discussed for generations, but it has never been a prerequisite for entry into medical school. That is beginning to change. The medical profession is evolving into a highly team-oriented industry, with teams of doctors and other health care professionals sharing responsibility for patient care.

More important than this, however, are studies showing that poor communication among doctors and healthcare staff has resulted in a disturbing number of preventable deaths. In a now famous report, To Err is Human, the Institute of Medicine found that breakdowns in communication were the leading cause of medical errors, resulting in as many as 98,000 deaths each year. To put this in perspective, imagine a commercial airliner crashing every day of the year because the pilots lacked communication skills. I would re-think my vacation plans.

The medical school at Virginia Tech Carilion is on the cutting edge of addressing this problem. As part of their selection process for new students, they require candidates to undergo a series of mini interviews that assess team and communication skills, such as how they respond to someone who disagrees with them and listening skills. Research has shown that scores on these interviews are good predictors of license exam scores years later. The school doesn’t stop at the selection process, however, it also requires medical students to take classes on teamwork skills.

While the importance of interpersonal skills has long been understood in the working world, it’s good to see that the medical field is beginning to incorporate soft skills in their practices. To read more about Virginia Tech Carilion’s unique approach, read the New York Times article here or read the Institute of Medicine report here.

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