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Wednesday, 8 March, 2000, 01:15 GMT
GPs' bedside manner targeted
Student doctors
Trainee doctors need teaching in communication skills
A simple questionnaire could help improve doctors' communication with their patients.

The seven-step scheme is aimed at highlighting where trainee doctors go wrong so future generations of the medical profession have a better bedside manner.



Effective communication is essential for effective health care, especially in the field of cancer

Dr Lindsay St Clare
It is estimated that the average doctor holds 200,000 consultations with patients during their career, but they receive very little formal training in communication skills.

Cancer patients are particularly at risk of poor communication from doctors, says psychologist Dr Lindsay St Clare, of Bristol University, who has developed the new questionnaire.

She said lay people and psychologists were better than GPs in using the test to establish who handled their patients well - GPs concentrated too much on clinical information rather than the ability to communicate.

Just one hour's training was needed to ensure people could use the questionnaire to improve medical students' relationship with patients.

She added: "Effective communication is essential for effective health care, especially in the field of cancer.

"Although both parties are involved, we tend to see the doctor as responsible for the success, or otherwise, of communication, which is why it is so important to invest in training.

"An unexpected finding was that lay people might judge communication skills more efficiently than GPs, probably because the GPs were distracted by the medical students' clinical performance."

Explanations

The seven areas covered by the questionnaire include assessment of the way doctors greet patients, their success in obtaining information and the quality of their explanations of medical conditions.

The results of the questionnaire can then be used to teach the trainee how to improve his or her communication skills.

Previous studies have shown that poor communication can affect the health and survival rates of patients.

The questionnaire was tested in mock consultations, the British Journal of Medical Psychology reports.

Dr Simon Fradd, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association's committee for GPs, said: "We can never over-stress the importance of communication, because the health service is in the communication business. We must give due weight to it."

But he said great advances had already been made at both undergraduate and postgraduate level in recent years.

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