In this week's Scrubbing Up, Ros Levenson, a lay member of the General Medical Council explains how the training of doctors is changing to ensure that they are able to deliver sensitive information in a clear and sympathetic way.
Ms Levenson says that while basic medical knowledge and clinical skills are important, good communication skills are equally vital.
Here are some of the comments you have been sending in to the latest Scrubbing Up.
I think these changes are only a good thing. As a first year medical student, following the guidance laid out in "Tomorrow Doctors" is very important. The course I'm on while having the majority of it focused toward base knowledge and clinical skill, has a significant focus towards the communication skills of the modern doctor and how to interact with patients in a proper and professional manner. History shows us that a focus away from this in the past has lead to problems. Now is the time to go back and get it right.
Mike Bright, Stockton-on-Tees
As a final year medical student at one of the UK's leading medical schools, I have first-hand experience of communication skills training. We have had at least 40 communication skills sessions with actors during medical school, compared with only one session in a simulator learning how to deal with a critically-ill patient. Whilst I do think that some communication skills training is necessary, I feel that the emphasis of training has shifted so far towards good communication that our clinical competence becomes questionable.
This is a great idea, but in my experience it's not the student doctors who need this training, it's the more experienced ones, including consultants! As a woman and a mother I have been subjected to arrogance and dismissiveness by many a consultant, registrar and a GP. I was even told that "women of my age tend to have psychosomatic illness", and shortly afterwards I was diagnosed with a serious condition by a different specialist. Send consultants for retraining please - they're the ones that need it!
I would like to mention that as a staff nurse, we attend lessons, take part in scenarios and debates on the subject of communication, discuss bad news, behavioural science, body language and conflict resolution. I believe all the above to be fundamental in the nursing and medical profession. However, I do not believe it is all inherent but that personal experience, peer observation, challenges and self-reflection do go a long way to creating and establishing good well rounded professionals.
Kathryn Parton, Merseyside
One of the most upsetting days of my life was when I attended the eye department of a regional hospital for an examination with a view to receiving a new and expensive treatment on the NHS, a treatment which might have saved my eyesight, but I was told by the consultant that I didn't "merit" treatment. I have since rationalised that to mean that I was not a suitable patient for the procedure, but the doctor's apparent lack of compassion made a dreadful situation even worse. Fortunately, my eyesight problem stabilised and I have been able to continue working, but facing blindness in my early 40s was a truly terrible experience.
Bedside manners are very important. Gone are the days when doctors lived in ivory towers and patients had blind faith in whatever treatment they were given. The British system led the way in many countries, especially in the Indian subcontinent. The emphasis should be on both a thorough grounding in medical science and in communication and medical ethics. The former will cure the patient while the latter will comfort them.
Mr D Mohan, Dudley
In addition doctors and consultants need to use similar skills with their trainees. There is nothing better than a good role model. The support and care received by students undergoing medical training is not always as effective as it should be. It is heartening to hear of the intentions. I hope they come to fruition.
G. Hird, Blandford Forum
My GP asked if I had ever been tested for thyroid problems, as I "have gogglie eyes" according to him! Poor bedside manners even on such a simple subject.