Addressing communication challenges in older patients with cancer and geriatric syndromes: a communication skills training module for health care providers

  • Koshy AlexanderEmail author
  • Smita C. Banerjee
  • Ruth Manna
  • Yesne Alici
  • Christian Nelson
  • Natalie Gangai
  • Megan J. Shen
  • Patricia A. Parker
  • Beatriz Korc-Grodzicki
Research Paper

Key Summary Points


To describe the development, application and evaluation of a Communication Skills Traning Module for health care providers addressing Ageism, and sensory/physical impairments seen in older cancer patients.


Training improved participants' self efficacy to communicate effectively. Participants demonstrated significant uptake of three skills- invite agenda, transition and normalize.


Our results show the successful development and application of a Geriatrics focused communication skills training program for health care providers.



Older adults frequently suffer from functional decline and sensory changes which, in turn, may trigger ageism, i.e., stereotyping and discriminating against individuals based on their age. Ageism commonly interferes with medical care. Communication strategies can be used to counteract ageism and to engage in optimal patient-centered care. This study describes the development, application, and evaluation of a communication skills training (CST) module (Geriatrics 101) designed to familiarize health care providers (HCPs) with the concept of ageism, and the frequent sensory and physical impairments in older patients with cancer, and to teach practical communication skills to effectively communicate with these patients.


Geriatrics 101 is one of three modules in a 1-day CST program for HCPs, intended to improve the outcome of consultations through utilization of a set of clinically meaningful strategies. Study measures included post-training module evaluation, self-efficacy measured pre- and post-training, and communication skills uptake assessed pre- and post-training.


97 clinicians participated over 2 years. Over 90% of participants rated the module favorably. Participants’ self-efficacy to communicate efficiently with older patients with impairments improved significantly from pre- (M = 3.52, SD 0.85) to post-module training (M = 4.26, SD 0.50). Participants also demonstrated significant uptake of three skills—invite agenda, transition, and normalize.


The successful development and application of our program paves the way for future research that focuses on the evaluation of such geriatric-focused communication training in clinical settings, assessing patient-reported outcomes.


Ageism Communication skill Geriatric assessment Geriatric oncology 



This study was made possible by Grant number #U1QHP28705 from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an operating division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG-Core Grant; P30 CA008748; PI: Craig B. Thompson, MD), Rosanne H. Silbermann Foundation and Muriel Duenewald Lloyd Inspiration Fund. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Health Resources and Services Administration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the above foundations.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All the authors declare no conflict of interest.

Ethical statement

MSK’s institutional review board approved this educational study and the publication of these data. The exempt status allowed the team to conduct CST training as a routine educational practice and permitted release of de-identified data on the effectiveness of this training program.

Informed consent

Informed consent was not obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© European Geriatric Medicine Society 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Koshy Alexander
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Smita C. Banerjee
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ruth Manna
    • 1
  • Yesne Alici
    • 1
    • 2
  • Christian Nelson
    • 1
    • 2
  • Natalie Gangai
    • 1
  • Megan J. Shen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Patricia A. Parker
    • 1
    • 2
  • Beatriz Korc-Grodzicki
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Geriatrics Service, Department of MedicineMemorial Sloan Kettering Cancer CenterNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Weill Cornell Medical CollegeNew YorkUSA

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