HAP Blog

Medical Students Gain Insight into the Benefits of Patient-Provider Communication

November 09, 2022

Skillful communication is essential in all health care interactions. Research has identified effective provider communication skills to be a key factor in ensuring better patient outcomes, reduced medical errors, greater compliance with treatment plans, and higher patient satisfaction scores.

Traditional medical teaching imparts students with theoretical and practical knowledge of disease processes and emphasizes education about diagnostic and treatment modalities but rarely addresses the engagement skills that are most essential in dealing with patients. Medical educators are now seeing the value of linking medical students with patients, their families, and communities to foster awareness of the importance of human connection to improve students’ social interaction and communication skills and to facilitate learning of coping with illness in the real world.

Mary Lawhon Triano, MSN, CRNP-C. and Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Education at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, recently invited Linda Miller, retired high school health and wellness teacher and member of the HAP Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC), to address second year medical students, sharing the story of her family’s journey into health care. Linda’s story began when her father received open-heart surgery and subsequently suffered a stroke and infection, which led to the need for intensive and long-term health care. A series of miscommunications and medical mishaps in the hospital setting led Linda to her role of patient advocacy at HAP. Linda was immediately on board to share her family’s experiences in a positive context to make a difference in the education of future doctors.

Linda agrees that medical students should be exposed early in their education to the skills needed for effective engagement with patients and families. “The medical school environment is the optimal place and time for students to acquire communication skills which lead to a better understanding of the patient’s experiences and perspectives of receiving health care. It’s important that doctors communicate effectively in order to create a strong relationship that welcomes questions and concerns from the perspective of the patient and family,” she said.

Linda addressed medical students taking a course entitled “Physician and Patient Centered Care.”  This course is unique in that it not only addresses the physician’s distinctive relationship to individual patients but also emphasizes cultural humility, population health, and something called “community immersion,” which describes the physician’s role in empowering communities and improving community health. Additionally, the course is intended to foster students’ positive attitudes towards engagement with the patient and the community and to recognize the physician’s unique role in understanding diversity and advocating for the elimination of health disparities. Students gain insight into what it means to be the person behind the diagnosis, how lives and entire families are impacted by illness, and the importance of engaging patients and their families into health care—all of which fosters understanding and empathy that will serve as the foundation for the development and retention of enhanced communication and empathy through the clinical years and into practice.

“Hearing Linda’s family’s experiences with health care reminded all of us that patients and families need advocates in health care. At Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, we work with our medical students to value advocacy to better serve our patients, families, and communities,” states Triano.

Studies have reported multiple benefits of patient engagement in medical education, such as changes in students' attitudes toward patients, and knowledge and understanding related to patient-doctor communication, as well as new insights into psychosocial aspects of patients' everyday life with the disease. Fledgling physicians receive the benefit of gaining insight into how families function and how they feel about heath care, which leads to the acquisition of communication skills that deliver improved expressions of respect and dignity.

By including patient and family voices and creating strong partnerships in the development of medical education programs, health care outcomes can be improved at an organization or institution level, or for the entire health care system. Our goal should be in developing a culture where partnerships with patients, families, and communities in education for all health care providers and practitioners becomes the norm.


Janette Bisbee, MSN, RN-BC, CPXP, NHA, is an education/project manager for The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania’s (HAP). Janette leads person and family engagement efforts at HAP, assisting member hospitals to operationalize person-and-family-centered care in their organizations. Janette has been a registered nurse for 30 years, and prior to joining HAP, spent the majority of her career in the field of long-term care and in the education of nursing students. In addition to being an RN, Janette is a board certified gerontological nurse, a Certified Patient Experience Professional (CPXP),  and holds a Pennsylvania Nursing Home Administrator license.


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