Orthopedic Residents and Older Patients: Communications Training Improves Outcomes

The Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York has implemented a program to improve orthopedic surgery residents’ communications proficiency when interacting with older patients, and a recent evaluation of both residents and patients indicates positive reaction from both constituencies. The study results were presented at the Council of Orthopaedic Residency Directors meeting earlier this month. The training is targeted to third year residents, and is designed to sensitize them to some of the special needs of their older patients and to correct negative perceptions that these practitioners may have about them. Mathias Bostrom, MD, orthopedic surgeon and residency program director for HSS, commented, "This ongoing program has been valuable on many levels, but fundamentally helps our residents become more caring physicians, and not just surgeons." Charles Cornell, MD, clinical director of orthopedic surgery at HSS, added, "Inadequate communication between doctor and patient is well documented to be a source of patient harm, risk of complications, and poor patient satisfaction with their care.”

The 2-part HSS communications program includes exploration of issues involved in aging as well as negative stereotypes about older adults, and possible biases stemming from past personal and professional experiences. Residents are also coached on presenting information to their older patients. 64 residents participated in the training from 2009 to 2015. In a pre- and posttraining evaluation, significant positive changes were noted in residents’ knowledge of aging, in attitudes toward older patients, and in level of anxiety accompanying treatment of them. A similar evaluation of 674 patients also found that 96% felt the prepared residents demonstrated sensitivity in caring for them.

Read more about practitioner/patient communication here.

Read more about the HSS training program and the evaluation results here

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