Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I See What You're Saying

In her NY Times article The Dance Before the Diagnosis, Dr. Pauline Chen reports that when there's bad news to deliver, she, like other doctors, has "evaded the probing looks of patients and their families..." and that doctors can be "woefully evasive in talking with their patients."

In trying to protect patients from bad news, doctors may be misjudging them and their ability to grasp their predicamentt - unintentionally making things worse. When verbal communication may be inadequate or vague, Dr, Chen posits that our bodies may tell all regardless. She points out that research in nonverbal communication is thin, in part because of the challenge of measuring and assessing nonverbal behavior. But based on her personal experiences and the anecdotes of colleagues, Dr. Chen believes that patients get the message no matter what isn't said. The son of a patient with pancreatic cancer illustrates her point. While the doctors had yet to share the pathology report with him, he "knew" his father's tumor was cancerous because "they could not look him in the eye in those hours before" they actually told him the news.

Almost 30 years ago, Robin Dimatteo and Angelo Taranta published their research on nonverbal communication and physician-patient rapport in the journal Professional Psychology (Vol.10(4), Aug. 1979, 540-547). Their results demonstrated that rapport depends on two things: the doctor's ability to read the patient's nonverbal cues and the doctor's ability to intentionally communicate affect through nonverbal channels. Yet, three decades later, Dr. Chen indicates that physicians still aren't talking the nonverbal talk. Studies haved repeatedly shown that effective communication skills can be learned - any trial attorney knows the value of effective nonverbal communication. The Association of Medical Colleges and the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education have emphasized interpersonal communication skills as one of the six core competancies taught in medical schools since 2002.

Might I dare to suggest a few excellent litigators as helpful adjuncts?

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