Hospital for Special Surgery program improves physician communication with older patients

A new training program at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York is successfully improving communication between orthopedic surgery residents and older adult patients, according to an analysis of surveys filled out by both patients and physicians. The results of the analysis were presented on June 24 at the Council of Orthopaedic Residency Directors meeting in Seattle.

Charles Cornell, MD, clinical director of orthopedic surgery at HSS, said, "Orthopedic surgeons are increasingly tasked with treating elderly patients with a variety of injuries and degenerative conditions. 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."

Between 2009 and 2015, 64 orthopedic surgeon residents participated in the training program. The program consisted of two parts — residents received educational training from a social worker regarding the needs of older adults and were given effective techniques to communicate with them, afterwards the residents presented on a musculoskeletal topic to a group of 20 to 30 adults age 65 and older and led exercise demonstrations pertinent to the condition presented upon.

Twenty-five residents were evaluated before and after the training. Average scores regarding general knowledge on aging and older people increased from 57.3 percent to 72 percent. Also, attitudes toward older adults were found to have improved.

During the same period, 674 older adults were surveyed after sessions with the residents. A vast majority — 96 percent — strongly agreed or agreed that the residents had displayed sensitivity while engaging with them.

Mathias Bostrom, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and residency program director at HSS, said, "This ongoing program has been valuable on many levels, but fundamentally helps our residents become more caring physicians, and not just surgeons."

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