Science & Technology/Pitt Receives Grant to Improve Quality of Life for Seriously Ill

Issue Date: 
July 23, 2007


The Institute to Enhance Palliative Care in Pitt’s School of Medicine has received grants totaling $250,000 to improve the ability of critical care fellows to communicate with their patients about end-of-life issues.

The grants include a two-year $150,000 award from the National Palliative Care Research Center and a separate award of $100,000 from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation in Pittsburgh.

“It is vitally important that fellows learn how to communicate effectively and empathetically when they are dealing with patients who are terminally ill,” said Robert Arnold, professor of medicine and chief of the palliative care and medical ethics section in Pitt’s medical school. “Studies show that good communication allows patients to receive care consistent with their goals and decreases family distress.”

According to Arnold, critical care fellows normally receive no formal training about how to conduct these difficult conversations with families. Moreover, no fellowship program has developed a curriculum that enables fellows to practice and receive feedback on their communication skills in a positive environment. The grants to Pitt will be used to develop and implement a comprehensive, evidence-based educational intervention for training fellows in palliative care communication skills.

The three-and-a-half-day intervention will use interactive presentations, practice with simulated families, and reflective exercises to improve communication skills. At the completion of the intervention, an expert panel will review the curriculum to assess how realistically it represented possible scenarios and its educational soundness.

In addition, nurses will help evaluate whether fellows’ communication skills improved. Preliminary data collected will be used by Arnold for a larger study on whether an educational communication intervention can improve the experiences of patients and their families in critical care situations.

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