Improving Communication With Surrogate Decision-Makers: A Pilot Initiative

Ellen C. Meltzer, Zhenzhen Shi, Alexandra Suppes, Jennifer E. Hersh, Jay D. Orlander, Aaron W. Calhoun, Judy Tung, Lia Logio, Ruth Manna, Philip A. Bialer, Cathleen A. Acres, Joseph J. Fins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


CONCLUSIONS : Residents' communication skills specific to surrogate decision-making benefit from focused interventions. Our pilot assessment of a workshop showed promise, and additionally demonstrated the feasibility of bringing OSCEs and simulated encounters into a busy clinical practice.

BACKGROUND : Difficult conversations in medical care often occur between physicians and patients' surrogates, individuals entrusted with medical decisions for patients who lack the capacity to make them. Poor communication between patients' surrogates and physicians may exacerbate anxiety and guilt for surrogates, and may contribute to physician stress and burnout.

OBJECTIVE : This pilot study assesses the effectiveness of an experiential learning workshop that was conducted in a clinical setting, and aimed at improving resident physician communication skills with a focus on surrogate decision-making.

METHODS : From April through June 2016, we assessed internal medicine residents' baseline communication skills through an objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) with actors representing standardized surrogates. After an intensive, 6-hour communication skills workshop, residents were reassessed via an OSCE on the same day. A faculty facilitator and the surrogate evaluated participants' communication skills via the expanded Gap Kalamazoo Consensus Statement Assessment Form. Wilcoxon signed rank tests (α of .05) compared mean pre- and postworkshop scores.

RESULTS : Of 44 residents, 33 (75%) participated. Participants' average preworkshop OSCE scores (M = 3.3, SD = 0.9) were significantly lower than postworkshop scores (M = 4.3; SD = 0.8; Z = 4.193; P < .001; effect size r = 0.52). After the workshop, the majority of participants self-reported feeling "more confident."

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)461-466
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of graduate medical education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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