Institute for Doctor-Patient Communication

IDPC Accomplishments

There have been a number of exciting developments at the Institute for Doctor-Patient Communication:

  • In late 2003, Arthur S. Levine, MD, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences, approved the establishment of the Institute for Doctor-Patient Communication. He thought that promoting research and education in doctor-patient communication required more than just one position at the School of Medicine, and he was convinced that the institute would serve as a catalyst. Robert M. Arnold, MD, the Leo H. Criep Chair in Patient Care, assumed the role of director of the institute. He quickly named two associate directors: Bruce S. Ling, MD, an assistant professor of medicine, to be in charge of research, and Laurel Milberg, PhD, an associate professor of family medicine, to be in charge of education. After surveying the available resources at the University, the administrators named a steering committee, consisting of respected and renowned members of the School of Medicine and the Graduate School of Public Health.
  • By early 2004, the institute leaders had developed an infrastructure and logo, distributed a survey to faculty regarding their interest in the field, developed requirements for core and affiliated faculty, and identified priority items for the first year. They had also started a weekly educational e-mail and a monthly education and research meeting, both of which have received positive feedback.
  • In May 2004, the institute convened its first annual meeting. More than 40 people from the various schools of the health sciences and the School of Arts and Sciences attended a full-day conference. The conference consisted of talks on recent research in doctor-patient communication as well as a presentation on how to teach giving bad news. Participants spent 3 hours brainstorming about how the institute could help faculty achieve their research and educational goals. Based on this meeting, the institute decided to develop an e-mail list serve, an electronic bulletin board, and a mentoring program to help junior investigators obtain research funding to study doctor-patient communication.
  • To help support junior investigators who plan to do research in doctor-patient communication, Dr. Levine committed over $100,000 in funding. The institute began to develop a grant application process to ensure that the best research is supported.
  • In recognition of the School of Medicine’s national standing in the field, the leading organization in doctor-patient communication, the American Academy on Physician and Patient (AAPP), held its national meeting in Pittsburgh from June 12, 2004, to June 17, 2004. Nationally recognized speakers, such as Rita Charon, MD, PhD, from Columbia University, Barbara Howard, MD, from Johns Hopkins University, Robert Light, MD, from the University of New Jersey Medical Center, and Richard Frankel, PhD, from the University of Indiana, gave plenary presentations regarding the state of the art of doctor-patient communication. More than 70 faculty from around the country participated in the conference, which prepared them to better teach communication skills at their medical schools. The evaluations from the meeting were highly complimentary.
  • The research efforts of the Institute for Doctor-Patient Communication continue to expand. Dr. Arnold is involved in two grants funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). One is designed to train oncology fellows to communicate regarding end-of-life issues, and the other is designed to assess whether giving oncologists feedback about their communication skills improves their subsequent communication with patients. Other members of the institute are successfully submitting and receiving funding for research projects concerning communication about topics such as colorectal screening, congestive heart failure, depressive illness, domestic violence, and hepatitis C. The core faculty members of the institute are developing courses to ensure that students learn the research methods needed to study doctor-patient communication.
  • The education projects of the institute are also expanding. Dr. Milberg’s first course on doctor-patient communication continues to receive extraordinarily high ratings from the students. The third-year internal medicine and family medicine clerkship directors are working with the institute to assess students’ communication skills during their clerkship, and the School of Medicine is performing day-long assessments of students’ communication skills during their second and fourth years of training. In addition, the institute has been offering a course to fellows on teaching communication skills, and this is the highest-ranked course in their curriculum.

All in all, the institute has enjoyed many busy and successful years. In upcoming years, it plans to continue expanding its educational and research missions, including the funding of pilot grants to help junior investigators move forward and receive federal or foundation support and the development of an integrated 4-year curriculum in doctor-patient communication for the School of Medicine.

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