Training healthcare providers to be more 'patient-centred' in clinical consultations

Problems may arise when healthcare providers focus on managing diseases rather than on people and their health problems. Patient-centred approaches to care delivery in the patient encounter are increasingly advocated by consumers and clinicians and incorporated into training for healthcare providers. We updated a 2001 systematic review of the effects of these training interventions for healthcare providers that aim to promote patient-centred care in clinical consultations.

We found 29 new randomized trials (up to June 2010), bringing the total of studies included in the review to 43. In most of the studies, training interventions were directed at primary care physicians (general practitioners, internists, paediatricians or family doctors) or nurses practising in community or hospital outpatient settings. Some studies trained specialists. Patients were predominantly adults with general medical problems, though two studies included children with asthma.

These studies showed that training providers to improve their ability to share control with patients about topics and decisions addressed in consultations are largely successful in teaching providers new skills. Short-term training (less than 10 hours) is as successful in this regard as longer training. Results are mixed about whether patients are more satisfied when providers practice these skills. The impact on general health is also mixed, although the limited data that could be pooled showed small positive effects on health status. Patients' specific health behaviours show improvement in the small number of studies where interventions use provider training combined with condition-specific educational materials and/or training for patients, such as teaching question-asking during the consultation or medication-taking after the consultation. However, the number of studies is too small to determine which elements of these multi-faceted studies are essential in helping patients change their healthcare behaviours.

Authors' conclusions: 

Interventions to promote patient-centred care within clinical consultations are effective across studies in transferring patient-centred skills to providers. However the effects on patient satisfaction, health behaviour and health status are mixed. There is some indication that complex interventions directed at providers and patients that include condition-specific educational materials have beneficial effects on health behaviour and health status, outcomes not assessed in studies reviewed previously. The latter conclusion is tentative at this time and requires more data. The heterogeneity of outcomes, and the use of single item consultation and health behaviour measures limit the strength of the conclusions.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

Communication problems in health care may arise as a result of healthcare providers focusing on diseases and their management, rather than people, their lives and their health problems. Patient-centred approaches to care delivery in the patient encounter are increasingly advocated by consumers and clinicians and incorporated into training for healthcare providers. However, the impact of these interventions directly on clinical encounters and indirectly on patient satisfaction, healthcare behaviour and health status has not been adequately evaluated.

Objectives: 

To assess the effects of interventions for healthcare providers that aim to promote patient-centred care (PCC) approaches in clinical consultations.

Search strategy: 

For this update, we searched: MEDLINE (OvidSP), EMBASE (OvidSP), PsycINFO (OvidSP), and CINAHL (EbscoHOST) from January 2000 to June 2010. The earlier version of this review searched MEDLINE (1966 to December 1999), EMBASE (1985 to December 1999), PsycLIT (1987 to December 1999), CINAHL (1982 to December 1999) and HEALTH STAR (1975 to December 1999). We searched the bibliographies of studies assessed for inclusion and contacted study authors to identify other relevant studies. Any study authors who were contacted for further information on their studies were also asked if they were aware of any other published or ongoing studies that would meet our inclusion criteria.

Selection criteria: 

In the original review, study designs included randomized controlled trials, controlled clinical trials, controlled before and after studies, and interrupted time series studies of interventions for healthcare providers that promote patient-centred care in clinical consultations. In the present update, we were able to limit the studies to randomized controlled trials, thus limiting the likelihood of sampling error. This is especially important because the providers who volunteer for studies of PCC methods are likely to be different from the general population of providers. Patient-centred care was defined as a philosophy of care that encourages: (a) shared control of the consultation, decisions about interventions or management of the health problems with the patient, and/or (b) a focus in the consultation on the patient as a whole person who has individual preferences situated within social contexts (in contrast to a focus in the consultation on a body part or disease). Within our definition, shared treatment decision-making was a sufficient indicator of PCC. The participants were healthcare providers, including those in training.

Data collection and analysis: 

We classified interventions by whether they focused only on training providers or on training providers and patients, with and without condition-specific educational materials. We grouped outcome data from the studies to evaluate both direct effects on patient encounters (consultation process variables) and effects on patient outcomes (satisfaction, healthcare behaviour change, health status). We pooled results of RCTs using standardized mean difference (SMD) and relative risks (RR) applying a fixed-effect model.

Main results: 

Forty-three randomized trials met the inclusion criteria, of which 29 are new in this update. In most of the studies, training interventions were directed at primary care physicians (general practitioners, internists, paediatricians or family doctors) or nurses practising in community or hospital outpatient settings. Some studies trained specialists. Patients were predominantly adults with general medical problems, though two studies included children with asthma. Descriptive and pooled analyses showed generally positive effects on consultation processes on a range of measures relating to clarifying patients' concerns and beliefs; communicating about treatment options; levels of empathy; and patients' perception of providers' attentiveness to them and their concerns as well as their diseases. A new finding for this update is that short-term training (less than 10 hours) is as successful as longer training.

The analyses showed mixed results on satisfaction, behaviour and health status. Studies using complex interventions that focused on providers and patients with condition-specific materials generally showed benefit in health behaviour and satisfaction, as well as consultation processes, with mixed effects on health status. Pooled analysis of the fewer than half of included studies with adequate data suggests moderate beneficial effects from interventions on the consultation process; and mixed effects on behaviour and patient satisfaction, with small positive effects on health status. Risk of bias varied across studies. Studies that focused only on provider behaviour frequently did not collect data on patient outcomes, limiting the conclusions that can be drawn about the relative effect of intervention focus on providers compared with providers and patients.

Share/Save