By Stephen Wilkins, MPH

First Posted at Mind the Gap on 8/13/2013

Steve Wilkins, MPH, host of "Mind the Gap"

Steve Wilkins, MPH, host of “Mind the Gap”

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Or in the case of the Adopt One! Challenge…by encouraging physicians across the U.S. to commit to adopting one new patient-centered communication skill in 2014.

Anyone who has followed my work here on Mind the Gap knows that I am passionate about improving the way physicians and their care teams talk to and interact with patients. My passion stems both from my personal experiences as a health care executive, a patient advocate and patient.  I honestly believe that if we could improve how doctors and patients talk with one another beginning in the exam room we would fix much of what is broken with today’s health care system.

“I have discovered that the biggest problem with physician-patient communications is the illusion that it ever occurred! “

Many physicians readily admit that their patient communication skills need work. But when faced with a burdensome daily practice schedule they make do with the physician-directed patient communication skills they learned in medical school. Besides…most physicians operate under the mistaken impression that patient-centered communications – the alternative to physician-directed communications – takes too much time and requires longer visits. 

So How Will The Adopt One Challenge Fix Things?

The Challenge, to be launched later the Fall, is designed to accomplish three objective – behavioral objectives modeled after the Health Belief Model. These three objectives are:

  • Help physicians understand that their patient communication skills are not all they could be
  • Show physicians how their lack of patient-centered communication skills is a barrier to their ability to effectively engage and activate patients or to provide exceptional patient experiences
  • Serve as a “Call to Action” to prompt physicians to take action to improve their patient-centered communication skills

Here’s how the Adopt One! Challenge will accomplish these objectives:

Help physicians understand that their patient communication skills are not all they could be

Using audio recordings provided by participating physicians a team of independent, trained professionals will identify, measure and assess the patient communication skills employed by each physician. This research method – called conversation analysis – is the same method used in medical school. Unlike patient satisfaction surveys like HCAHPS which are not very prescriptive, the Challenge will provide participants with objective, detailed and actionable findings and recommendations.

Show physicians how their lack of patient-centered communication skills is a barrier to their ability to effectively engage and activate patients or to provide exceptional patient experiences

In addition to measuring and assessing their patient communication skills, each physician’s patient communication skills will be benchmarked against patient-centered best practices.

Over 30 years of research has linked the use of specific, patient-centered communication skills to more productive visits, increased patient engagement, better patient health outcomes, lower health care use and superior patient experiences.  By comparing physicians’ skills against these “best practices” we show them how their communication practices may be affecting patients, their practice and the organizations they work for or with.  We also show them which communication skills they may want to focus on improving.

Serve as a “Call to Action” to prompt physicians to take action to improve their patient-centered communication skills

The Challenge serves as a concrete call to action to physicians to take a specific action to learn a new patient-centered communication skill over the course of 12 months.  This call to action will require participants to 1) commit in writing to adopt/develop one new patient-centered communication skill of their choosing and 2) provide them with access to online training and resources needed to help them learn that new communication skill.

Because the Adopt One! Challenge is expected to become an annual event, participating physicians can measure their year-over-year progress as they add new patient-centered communication skills.

In future posts I will share more about the Adopt One! Challenge. In these future posts I will profiling members of the Adopt One! Challenge Advisory Board as well as the Partners that are making the Challenge possible.