MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Frederick W. Kron, MD
President and Founder of Medical Cyberworlds, Inc
Department of Family Medicine,Ann Arbor, MI and
Michael D. Fetters, M.D., M.P.H., M.A.
Professor of Family Medicine
University of Michigan
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this technology and study?
Dr. Kron: Communication is the most important component of the doctor-patient relationship. I know that through research, but also through personal experience. As a cancer survivor, I’ve seen first-hand the difference that outstanding communication skill can make to a vulnerable patient.
At the beginning of the project, we asked medical educators about the challenges they had in assessing and training communication competency. They told us that technical skills are easy to teach and assess, but communication skills are mainly behavioral skills that involve verbal and nonverbal behaviors, facial expressions, and many other cues that pass between patient and provider. That’s hard to teach and assess. Activities like role play with standardized patients (SPs) have been widely used, but it’s impossible for SPs to accurately portray these behaviors, or for faculty to fully assess the nuanced behaviors of both learner and patient. Supporting this idea is a lack of evidence proving that SP encounters translate in behavioral changes or transfer into clinical settings.
Developments in virtual reality provided us with a great opportunity for assessing and teaching of communication behaviors. Working with a national group of experts, we created computer-based Virtual Humans that interact with learners using the full range of behaviors you’d expect from two people talking together. They are so behaviorally realistic and compelling, that they trigger emotional responses in learners, and make learners want to learn so they can do their best.
Dr. Fetters: Our team has particular interest in doctor-patient communication in the context of cancer. There are many critical aspects of cancer communication: breaking the bad news to the patient, negotiating sometimes conflicting family opinions about treatment, and communication among team members about the patient’s care, just to name a few. We’ve begun building out those scenarios in the technological platform we developed, Mpathic-VR.