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NIH grant supports patient-physician communication research

April 6, 2011

Purdue University has received a five-year, $2.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study patient and physician communication to improve interactions during physician visits and empower patients to participate actively in their care.

"The time between patients and physicians is precious, and each interaction is different, so this study will explore how communication affects clinical decisions, testing, prescribing and patient outcomes," said Cleveland Shields, associate professor of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. "Patient-centered communication emphasizes understanding each patient's individual illness experience, needs and preferences, and helps patients participate in decision-making regarding care. Our goal is to improve patient-centered communication and clinical decisions by examining how clinicians can communicate better with patients who may differ according to age, sex, ethnicity and personality characteristics."

The co-principal investigator on the grant is Ronald Epstein from the University of Rochester Medical Center. Also on the research team is Jennifer Griggs at the University of Michigan Medical School and Haslyn Hunte, Purdue assistant professor in the Department of Health and Kinesiology. The grant started March 1.

Physicians, with their prior consent, will complete questionnaires and see "patients." The researchers will be using standardized patients, actors who undergo intensive training to portray patient roles convincingly and consistently, Shields said. These actors will make appointments with participating physicians in such a way that the physician believes that it is a real patient. Each visit will be unannounced and recorded using hidden audio-recorders.

Physicians in Indiana, New York and Michigan will participate in the study.

Shields and Hunte are faculty affiliates of the Purdue Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering, and Shields also is a faculty affiliate of the Purdue Center on Aging and the Life Course, and the Purdue Oncological Sciences Center.

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