New communication skills online course for clinicians

Clinical news
10 October 2018

Dr Belinda Loring 

A new online course is available to help clinicians develop skills for communicating effectively with patients.

It focuses on communicating about the risks and benefits of treatment options, and for enhancing skills in shared decision-making.

Dr Belinda Loring is an advisory group member of the Choosing Wisely campaign, which is founded on principles of shared decision-making.

The campaign encourage clinicians and patients to engage in conversations to reduce unnecessary tests, treatments and care.

“Shared decision-making is about the integration of communication and evidence skill," says Dr Loring.

"As doctors, we like to think we are well-practised communicators, and adept at explaining complicated clinical information in a format patients will understand."

"But shared decision making is more than this, it requires us to go a step further than the unbiased imparting of plain language evidence about tests and treatment. 

"It asks us to elicit the patient’s values and preferences and encourage them to consider what is important to them in terms of making a decision about their care.

“This is much more nuanced than just explaining the risks and benefits of a potential test or treatment and asking the patient whether they want to go ahead. 

"Health decisions often have no single ‘best choice’ and the right choice for one patient may have unacceptable drawbacks for another.

"For patients and carers to actively participate in sharing decisions, they need information about the things that matter to them, and they need it communicated in a manner that encourages them to be involved.”

The course was developed by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care and takes two hours to complete. It's approved for up to two CME credits for the General Practice Educational Programme (GPEP) and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) purposes. 

Dr Loring says communicating information about risk to patients often requires conveying quite complex numerical information. 

“This course provides training on how to go about this, but also on how to assess and adapt this risk communication based on what is most important to the patient.

"By being better able to adapt our risk communication, we also ensure that each and every patient receives the right care for them.”

This module was developed in Australia with primarily Australian audience in mind. There will be some differences in detail between New Zealand and Australian management, however the concepts of shared decision making and choosing wisely is still applicable to New Zealand audiences.

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