Purpose: To evaluate and compare the effects of two types of continuing medical education (CME) programs on the communication skills of practicing primary care physicians.
Participants: Fifty-three community-based general internists and family practitioners practicing in the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area and 473 of their patients.
Method: For the short program (a 4 1/2-hour workshop), 31 physicians were randomized to either the intervention or the control group. In the long program (a 2 1/2-day course), 20 physicians participated with no randomization. A research assistant visited all physicians' offices both one month before and one month after the CME program and audiotaped five sequential visits each time. Data were based on analysis of the content and the affect of the interviews, using the Roter Interactional Analysis Scheme.
Results: Based on both t-test analysis and analysis of covariance, no effect on communication was evident from the short program. The physicians enrolled in the long program asked more open-ended questions, more frequently asked patients' opinions, and gave more biomedical information than did the physicians in the short program. Patients of the physicians who attended the long program tended to disclose more biomedical and psychosocial information to their physicians. In addition, there was a decrease in negative affect for both patient and physician, and patients tended to demonstrate fewer signs of outward distress during the visit.
Conclusion: This study demonstrates some potentially important changes in physicians' and patients' communication after a 2 1/2-day CME program. The changes demonstrated in both content and affect may have important influences on both biologic outcome and physician and patient satisfaction.