Preparing for Difficult Patient Conversations

Nurse Comforting PatientOne of the most difficult things an oncologist must do is deliver a heartbreaking diagnosis to a patient. That’s why two physicians from Pittsburgh and Washington, along with peers from Duke University and the University of Washington have been researching how to improve communication between doctors and patients.

The approach, called Vital Talk, involves role-playing with patient actors and real doctors to test different communication techniques in upsetting situations.

Amy R. Mackenzie, MD, medical oncologist at Jefferson spoke with WHYY’s Newsworks at the first training session, which happened to take place in Philadelphia.

At the training sessions, doctors have the opportunity to practice difficult conversations, take a step back and really understand how to approach a situation with compassion and emotion, rather than just facts.

“We want to fix people. If we can’t fix their cancer, we want to fix their other problems,” said Dr. Mackenzie. “And I don’t think patients always want to be fixed because sometimes. They want to be heard.”

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