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Theater Classes Help Docs' Bedside Manners
Date:9/7/2007

Just six hours of instruction improved relationships with patients, study claims

FRIDAY, Sept. 7 (HealthDay News) -- New evidence suggests that a bit of theatrics can help doctors become better caregivers.

The finding is based on the experience of a small group of internal medicine residents who went through six hours of theater workshops and lectures led by university theater professors.

Focus was placed on the impact that body language, eye contact, verbal cues and attentiveness have on patient-doctor communications, and the skills taught appeared to significantly improve both a physician's bedside manner and patient trust.

"We're not trying to teach doctors to be actors," said Dr. Alan Dow, an associate director of residency training at the Virginia Commonwealth University VCU) Medical Center, in Richmond, Va. "But there are some valuable communication skills that doctors are just not learning and that the medical education system is just not thinking about right now. And we thought that a lot of the stuff that's being taught to theater students is very similar to what doctors could benefit from in terms of communicating with patients."

The report is published in the August issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

As a combined effort between VCU's internal medicine and theater departments, Dow teamed up with theater professor Aaron Anderson in 2004 to design a program geared to the patient-doctor dynamic as experienced by 14 medical residents, nearly three-quarters of whom were women.

Four theater professors held four 90-minute classes that identified the need for establishing patient trust.

In addition to attending lectures, the residents also engaged in role-playing, some of which involved residents "acting," with teachers playing the part of patients.

They also stressed the importance of the subtle but powerful role that body language, eye
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