Background: Physician-patient communication skills help determine the nature and quality of diagnostic information elicited from patients, the quality of the physician's counseling, and the patient's adherence to treatment. In spite of their importance, surveys have demonstrated a wide variability and deficiencies in the teaching of these skills.
Aim: Describe two specific methodologies for teaching physician-patient communication skills developed at our institution and pilot test them for effectiveness.
Methods: Between 2004 and 2009 we developed "doc.com," a series of 41 media-rich online modules on all aspects of healthcare communication jointly with the American Academy on Communication in Healthcare. Starting in 2006, we expanded our pre-existing experience with the videoconferencing system "WebOSCE" into the online application "WebEncounter." This new methodology combines practice of communication skills on standardized patients with structured assessment and constructive feedback. We had three randomized groups: controls who did only the assessment parts of a WebOSCE on two occasions, a doc.com group who had doc.com in between the assessment occasions, and a combined group that had both doc.com and a WebEncounter between assessments.
Results/conclusion: We found significant improvement in skills as components were added, and the training program was well received.