Effective clinical communication is essential in delivering quality healthcare, and many health professionals seek professional development to enhance these skills. Since 2017 Cancer Council Victoria and Deakin University have delivered annual three-day communication skills Retreat for health professionals. The Retreat’s length and format follow current recommendations including a small group, learner-centred format, role play, simulated patients and feedback.
Objectives: To examine 2019 Retreat participants’ experiences in implementing communication skills in their clinical practice over an 8-month period.
Description/Methodology: Longitudinal qualitative study involving telephone interviews to assess: key learnings, perceptions of small group learning, ease of implementing skills in clinical practice, barriers to implementation and patient response to communication. Interviews were conducted 5-6 weeks (Time 1) and 8 months (Time 2) after the Retreat. Interviews are audiotaped, transcribed and analysed to identify key themes.
Results/Outcomes: Fourteen participants took part at Time 1 (9 doctors, 3 nurses, and 2 allied health professionals) and 12 at Time 2. At both interviews, participants enthusiastically endorsed the Retreat program, indicating high levels of satisfaction with facilitators and simulated patients. Small group learning was valued and provided a “safe environment to experiment” with new communication approaches. At Time 1, key learnings reflected communication skills (silence/pauses (n=5)) and methodology. At Time 2 communication methodology was mentioned less often, with more focus on specific skills implemented into practice. Implementing new skills moved from being a deliberate act at Time 1 to regular behaviour at Time 2. Participants identified improved outcomes for patients as a result of their new skills which reinforced practice. Key barriers were time, clinical role, stage of clinical career and patients’ expectations regarding the clinician’s role.
Conclusion: An intensive small group retreat-style communication skills training program can provide health professionals with increased skills to enable effective communication with patients in the clinical setting.