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Shadow Coaches Improve Physician Communication & Patient Experience

October 18, 2021

My editorial about a study of Shadow Coaching was published in the November 2021 issue of Medical Care, the official journal of the medical care section of the American Public Health Association (scroll down after clicking on the hyperlink to read the beginning of the piece).  What in the world is Shadow Coaching, and why does it matter?

It’s thrilling to see the at times ‘shadowy’ world of coaching (defined by the International Coaching Federation as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process) engage with the rigorous world of methodologically sound medical research.

This is a noteworthy development because evidence-based best medical practices don’t get us as far as we would like.  Pesky human factors, the idiosyncrasies of the patients and the health professionals who serve them get in the way of helping people make wise informed health-related decisions. Effective shadow coaches enhance physicians’ communication skills; this helps patients and improves outcomes.

The Medical Care study on Shadow Coaching demonstrated that excellent communicators who were taught the basics of coaching were able to improve the patient experience scores of physicians with communication challenges.  The shadow coaches – they were peers, not leaders – accompanied the weaker communicators for one or two clinical sessions, during which they taught their colleagues some tricks of the doctor-patient relationship trade.  The most effective shadow coaches were those who followed up and checked in with their coachees after the shadowing sessions.

Although lifelong learning in the realms of medical knowledge and clinical decision-making is required by all of the member boards of the American Board of Medical Specialties, feedback regarding the doctor-patient relationship almost disappears once physicians complete their training and enter clinical practice.  Helping clinicians maintain and strengthen our ability to practice with compassion and connection is especially important as we confront the growing challenge of politicized medical decision making and a world of salaried physicians in technologically top-heavy medical workplaces.

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

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