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Doctors working with improv actors to improve communication with patients

Experts say many doctors weren't taught how to effectively speak with patients
Posted at 1:38 PM, Dec 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-31 15:38:53-05

Breaking bad news is never easy. And as more health care options move to virtual platforms during the COVID-19 crisis, more health care workers are exploring new ways to better communicate with their patients.

“I’ve really always been fascinated with communication with the way doctors discuss tragic news,” said Dr. Anthony Orsini, founder of the Orsini Way and the Breaking Bad News Program, a training system developed to help doctors talk to patients more effectively during tragic times.

“Sometimes when we get caught up in the everyday tasks of medicine, we forget to convey that compassion to help medical professionals express more empathy,” Orsini said. “This program has doctors working with improv actors to develop the most effective and compassionate ways to deliver bad news.”

The Orsini Way and the Breaking Bad News Program have caught on nationwide with health care leaders saying these practice sessions better prepare doctors to handle difficult dialogue in real life.

“Depending on how we react to patients, their response to us is going to be different,” said Dr. Tanganyika Barnes with Englewood Hospital in New Jersey.

Her team recently bought into the online Breaking Bad News Program, saying it offers something medical schools don’t.

“I feel having gone through both, using improvisational actors, it’s a more authentic response,” Barnes said.

One of the improv actors helping train physicians to talk to patients is Maybelle Lincoln.

“We know we’re part of a culture change and that’s a really good feeling,” she said.

Lincoln believes this program helps doctors recognize that patients are people while also better combining science with socializing.

“This helps them have the tools to handle the emotional side of it as well as the clinical side,” she said.

Each of these sessions are taped and reviewed for ways to improve verbal and non-verbal communication.

“Studies have shown that that the manner in which a physician gives bad news can affect a patient or a family up to 30 years after the discussion,” Orsini said.

Orsini believes as doctors become better at breaking bad news, the sooner patients can start the healing process.