, Volume 20, Issue 12, pp 1108-1113

Teaching medical students the important connection between communication and clinical reasoning

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BACKGROUND: Medical students are rarely taught how to integrate communication and clinical reasoning. Not understanding the relation between these skills may lead students to undervalue the connection between psychosocial and biomedical aspects of patient care.

OBJECTIVE: To improve medical students’ communication and clinical reasoning and their appreciation of how these skills interrelate in medical practice.

DESIGN: In 2003, we conducted a randomized trial of a curricular intervention at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. In a 6-week course, participants learned communication and clinical reasoning skills in an integrative fashion using small group exercises with role-play, reflection and feedback through a structured iterative reflective process.

PARTICIPANTS: Second-year medical students.

MEASUREMENTS: All students interviewed standardized patients who evaluated their communication skills in establishing rapport, data gathering and patient education/counseling on a 5-point scale (1=poor; 5=excellent). We assessed clinical reasoning through the number of correct problems listed and differential diagnoses generated and the Diagnostic Thinking Inventory. Students rated the importance of learning these skills in an integrated fashion.

RESULTS: Standardized patients rated curricular students more favorably in establishing rapport (4.1 vs 3.9; P=.05). Curricular participants listed more psychosocial history items on their problem lists (65% of curricular students listing ≥1 item vs 44% of controls; P=.008). Groups did not differ significantly in other communication or clinical reasoning measures. Ninety-five percent of participants rated the integration of these skills as important.

CONCLUSIONS: Intervention students performed better in certain communication and clinical reasoning skills. These students recognized the importance of biomedical and psychosocial issues in patient care. Educators may wish to teach the integration of these skills early in medical training.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare for this article or this research.
The authors received an unrestricted educational grant through the Program for Outpatient Education in Medicine of the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine that helped support the curricular evaluation. At the time of curricular inception, Dr. Windish was a research fellow on an Institution Research Service Award training grant supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration, Grant #2-32-HP 10025. Dr. Price was a research fellow on a training grant supported by the National Institutes of Health in Behavioral Research in Heart and Vascular Disease, Grant #HL007180. The authors are indebted to Dr. Eric Bass for his suggestions and Dr. Georges Bordage for allowing us to use the Diagnostic Thinking Inventory.