All 14 residents -- at an average age of 30 -- were observed during a primary-care clinic visit at least once before the theater training and again at least once after the course. Another six residents received no theater training but had similar evaluations.
The researchers found that, in almost all respects, residents exposed to theater training were appreciably better at communicating with their patients than they had been before the training. Theatrically trained residents scored significantly better post-workshops in almost every aspect of empathy skills than their non-trained colleagues.
Although more research is needed, the team called for the creation of courses for medical students that stress the value of developing empathy skills.
"Right now, doctor-patient interactions are often very fact-based," noted Dow. "But there's a lot of emotion and nuance that is also part of that communication, and that is really the art of medicine -- rather than the technical aspect of what doctors do."
"And there's also the idea of being present in the moment with the patient, which is a difficult task," he acknowledged. "As a physician, you're going to be talking to that patient and worried about another patient who's much sicker, and you're going to be getting paged, and worried about all your personal things, work and non-work demands. But doctors need to realize that, and say 'OK, when I'm in front of a patient, I need to belong to that patient and be present with them, and then I can worry about that stuff later.'"
"Because," added Dow, "we know that focusing and understanding the emotion and the viewpoint of the patient leads to all sorts of better things. You get better information, you form stronger relationships, patients are more likely to listen to you -- get the prescriptions fi
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