For Rachel A. Hitt, MD, MPH, associate professor of radiology and director of patient experience and clinician engagement at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Department of Radiology, being a radiologist is more than interpreting scans from a distance.
“As radiologists, our role in healthcare extends beyond the reading room and into direct patient engagement,” Hitt wrote in a recent post for ACR’s Voice of Radiology blog.
Hitt, who also serves as physician leader for patient experience and employee engagement for UNC Hospital, is an advocate of patient- and family-centered care (PFCC), an approach to healthcare dedicated to fostering collaboration among providers, patients and their families. She serves on the ACR PFCC Outreach Committee and has made it her mission to strengthen physician-patient relationships by encouraging doctors to improve their communication skills.
In the fall of 2022, Hitt launched a communications workshop for radiology residents and fellows at UNC at Chapel Hill. The workshop uses the ACR Communication Curriculum and a modified version of the Academy of Communication in Healthcare (ACH) curriculum to provide participants with an innovative, collaborative learning experience.
“My communication workshop is a hybrid of didactic learning followed by interactive role-playing, where all participants have an opportunity to participate in observation, feedback and contribution,” Hitt wrote about the program.
Participants gain insight into patient communication through video demonstrations tailored to the field of radiology. They can practice the skills they learn in a variety of simulated scenarios, including speaking with patients concerned about the dangers of radiation exposure, delivering bad news and talking to parents about their children’s treatment.
“Everyone gets in the ‘hot seat,’” Hitt explains, “and everyone has assigned roles for observation, feedback and contribution.”
My communication workshop is a hybrid of didactic learning followed by interactive role-playing, where all participants have an opportunity to participate in observation, feedback and contribution.
The workshops have been a remarkable success. According to pre- and post-workshop surveys, participants are more likely after the program to use a variety of communication strategies such as delivering information in small “digestible chunks,” asking patients for lists of their concerns and engaging in reflective listening practices. Pre- and post-surveys have demonstrated statistically significant improvement for all communication skill sets taught and have received only positive comments from participants. Hitt hopes to gather more data in the future on the efficacy of the role-playing portion of the program and on the session’s two-hour length.
“Ultimately,” she said in her post, “the program opens the discussion on the importance of healthcare communication as part of a patient- and family-centered approach to care.”
Hitt has plans for expansion beyond training radiology residents and fellows. She is partnering with the UNC Department of Pediatrics and Department of Otolaryngology to give communication workshops to their staff. Additionally, she will be working with a nursing program student this fall to roll out a version of the workshops for mammography technologists and radiology department front desk staff. Other groups she is training include nurse navigators at the N.C. Cancer Hospital and managers in the UNC Health hospital system.
Hitt also hopes to introduce the workshops into official curriculums. She is in discussions with the UNC Graduate Medical Education Council to offer patient communication training as part of Physician Engagement in Quality and Safety training courses, as well as through the UNC Institute for Healthcare Quality Improvement. She hopes communication training will ultimately become a standard onboarding measure for new physicians in the UNC Health system.
“Ideally, I would like to roll out this training, with a tailored approach, to all workers who connect with patients on their healthcare continuum and journey,” Hitt says. “This includes guest services, environmental service and parking services.”
There is still a lot of work to do in getting patient communication workshops to such a large audience. In the future, though, expect to hear more about communication training for physicians. With advocates like Hitt, there is little doubt that PFCC is here to stay.
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