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Robert Arnold

UPMC Media Relations

University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Forms Institute for Doctor-Patient Communication

PITTSBURGH, August 26, 2003 The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has established an Institute for Doctor-Patient Communication as part of an ongoing effort to promote the development of effective communication skills between physicians and their patients and to serve as a focal point for education and research on one of the key issues in contemporary medical education.

"The fundamental relationship between a doctor and his or her patients is really the soul of the medical profession. We take very seriously the mission to train our doctors to build and maintain this relationship, including the development of good and effective communication skills," said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine. "The establishment of this institute is just one more way in which we hope to reinforce this effort."

The director of the new institute is Robert M. Arnold, M.D., Leo H. Criep Chair in Patient Care, professor of medicine, and chief of the section of palliative care and medical ethics at the School of Medicine.

"This institute will serve as an umbrella under which the medical school can coordinate both its teaching and research efforts in doctor-patient communication," Dr. Arnold said. Bruce S. Ling, M.D., M.P.H., is co-director of research for the institute; Laurel Milberg, Ph.D., is co-director for education.

"The development of this institute is really an outgrowth of the establishment of the Criep Chair in Patient Care in 2000 and the realization that a wide range of people and programs need to be involved in improving relationships between doctors and their patients," Dr. Arnold said. "Despite all the scientific advances in medicine over the last century, sitting down and talking to patients is still the most common and one of the most effective things that doctors do."

Dr. Criep, for whom the chair is named, was a 1920 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and believed strongly in the importance of doctors maintaining compassion and understanding in their dealings with patients.

Initially, the institute's education goals include identifying communication skills that are critical for all medical students and working to ensure that those skills are adequately taught and evaluated as part of the curriculum.

On the research side, one of the early goals of the institute is to provide support for a cadre of researchers to study doctor-patient communication.

"Nationally, there is relatively little research being done on doctor-patient communication and how we can evaluate what physicians are doing when they talk to patients," Dr. Arnold said. "There has been a great deal of research on patient satisfaction, but very few people look under the hood, so to speak, and say, 'What is the relationship between what the doctors say and what patients hear?' Moreover, we need to move beyond satisfaction to look at issues regarding the link between communication and patient behaviors and outcomes. We want this new institute to become a hub for training people to do this kind of research."

Effective communication typically is one of the most important factors that patients consider in selecting a physician and in gauging their ongoing satisfaction with that physician.

"As the health care industry grapples with changes that have put increasing pressure on the amount of time that doctors and patients typically spend together, and as consumers become more and more knowledgeable about health care issues, thanks in large part to the media and the Internet, developing good relationships between doctors and their patients has never been more critical than it is now," Dr. Levine said.

"As the only medical school in western Pennsylvania and as the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's partner in the largest health care system in this region, it is not only our responsibility to make this issue of improved doctor-patient communication a priority, it is the right thing to do."

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