Breaking Bad News to Patients With Cancer: A Randomized Control Trial of a Brief Communication Skills Training Module Incorporating the Stories and Preferences of Actual Patients

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Objective This study tested the effectiveness of a brief, learner-centered, breaking bad news (BBN) communication skills training module using objective evaluation measures. Methods This randomized control study (N = 66) compared intervention and control groups of students (n = 28) and residents’ (n = 38) objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) performance of communication skills using Common Ground Assessment and Breaking Bad News measures. Results Follow-up performance scores of intervention group students improved significantly regarding BBN (colon cancer (CC), p = 0.007, r = −0.47; breast cancer (BC), p = 0.003, r = −0.53), attention to patient responses after BBN (CC, p < 0.001, r = −0.74; BC, p = 0.001, r = −0.65), and addressing feelings (BC, p = 0.006, r = −0.48). At CC follow-up assessment, performance scores of intervention group residents improved significantly regarding BBN (p=0.004, r = −0.43), communication related to emotions (p = 0.034, r = −0.30), determining patient's readiness to proceed after BBN and communication preferences (p = 0.041, r = −0.28), active listening (p = 0.011, r = −0.37), addressing feelings (p < 0.001, r = −0.65), and global interview performance (p = 0.001, r = −0.51). Conclusion This brief BBN training module is an effective method of improving BBN communication skills among medical students and residents. Practice implications Implementation of this brief individualized training module within health education programs could lead to improved communication skills and patient care.