Background: Skilled physician communication is a key component of patient experience. Large-scale studies of exposure to communication skills training and its impact on patient satisfaction have not been conducted.
Objective: We aimed to examine the impact of experiential relationship-centered physician communication skills training on patient satisfaction and physician experience.
Design: This was an observational study.
Setting: The study was conducted at a large, multispecialty academic medical center.
Participants: Participants included 1537 attending physicians who participated in, and 1951 physicians who did not participate in, communication skills training between 1 August 2013 and 30 April 2014.
Intervention: An 8-h block of interactive didactics, live or video skill demonstrations, and small group and large group skills practice sessions using a relationship-centered model.
Main measures: Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS), Clinician and Group Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CGCAHPS), Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE), Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), self-efficacy, and post course satisfaction.
Key results: Following the course, adjusted overall CGCAHPS scores for physician communication were higher for intervention physicians than for controls (92.09 vs. 91.09, p < 0.03). No significant interactions were noted between physician specialty or baseline CGCAHPS and improvement following the course. Significant improvement in the post-course HCAHPS Respect domain adjusted mean was seen in intervention versus control groups (91.08 vs. 88.79, p = 0.02) and smaller, non-statistically significant improvements were also seen for adjusted HCAHPS communication scores (83.95 vs. 82.73, p = 0.22). Physicians reported high course satisfaction and showed significant improvement in empathy (116.4 ± 12.7 vs. 124 ± 11.9, p < 0.001) and burnout, including all measures of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment. Less depersonalization and greater personal accomplishment were sustained for at least 3 months.
Conclusions: System-wide relationship-centered communication skills training improved patient satisfaction scores, improved physician empathy, self-efficacy, and reduced physician burnout. Further research is necessary to examine longer-term sustainability of such interventions.
Keywords: CGCAHPS; HCAHPS; burnout; communication; empathy; patient experience; patient satisfaction; physician.