People with communication difficulties are more at risk of accidents and mistreatments than others. Addressing the skills of the communication partners (the medical professionals) is one way of tackling this issue. This study describes innovations in training for fourth year medical students at the University of Gothenburg. Sixty-nine medical students were enrolled in the study, all received a mandatory 45-minute lecture from an experienced speech and language therapist. Of these, 36 students were randomly selected to attend a further 2.5 hour workshop where they received further training in communication strategies and participated in role play and discussions. Both groups were asked to complete a questionnaire and, in addition, students who attended the workshop were video recorded having simulated conversation prior to and following the workshop activities. Recordings were analysed, and desired communication strategies coded and counted for comparison.
Results of the study demonstrated more improvements in confidence in knowledge and ability to identify relevant strategies in students who attended the workshop. Analysis of video data demonstrated specific improvements in the use of supportive strategies; particularly encouraging patients to use gestures, pointing, a calendar and use of writing.
The authors highlight the value of experiential learning to develop skills in use of communication strategies. This study demonstrates that communicating with individuals with difficulties in these areas requires training above and beyond routine communication skills training. Speech and language therapists are experts in this type of communication and are well placed to support current and future health professionals in honing these skills.