Are Good Communicators Good Physicians? Research Says Yes.

July 14, 2011

How much of a role does your personality play in determining your ability to treat patients? A big one, according to many medical schools.

How much of a role does your personality play in determining your ability to treat patients? A big one, according to many medical schools.

Admissions representatives at eight schools nationwide, including Stanford, are adding personality assessments to their traditional application processes, according to the New York Times.

At Virginia Tech Carilion, applicants spend eight minutes discussing a randomly selected ethical problem with an admissions representative, according to the Times article. This process occurs nine times, each time with the applicant facing a different problem and a different interviewer.

It’s a process the Times calls, the “admissions equivalent of speed-dating.”

The assessments, usually performed through multiple short interviews, are designed to gauge an applicant’s communication, quick-thinking, problem solving, and teamwork skills.

In 2010, medical schools were flooded with an overwhelming number of applications for a limited number of spots. About half of medical school hopefuls were turned down, according to the AAMC.

At first glance, it might appear that personality assessments are just another way for admissions boards to filter through thousands of highly competitive applicants.

Of course narrowing down the competition is part of it. But the addition of a personality assessment is also due to a shifting healthcare movement that relies on communication and teamwork between physicians, their colleagues, and patients - more heavily than ever before.

One such driver of that movement is the proposed ACO program. To be successful in ACOs, healthcare providers will need to work within part of a community of physicians; and they will need to be able to communicate effectively and in a timely manner with other members of that community.

“ACOs are not just a new way to pay for care but a new model for the organization and delivery of care,” CMS Administrator Donald M. Berwick said in a statement

In addition, other healthcare movements reveal the growing importance of communication and teamwork in patient care. As the Times points out, several studies show that preventative mistakes are often caused by poor communication.

One such study conducted by national hospital oversight group the Joint Commission found that 80 percent of serious medical errors are due to poor communication between two teams of caregivers.

In addition, other studies show that poor communication between a physician and patient is a root cause of malpractice claims.

“The key to avoiding a lawsuit, at least the most important one, is the ability to communicate with your patients,” an expert witness in medical malpractice litigation Dr. Herschel Lessin said during a presentation at our Physicians Practice LIVE event.

Essentially, the physicians with the highest chance of success in healthcare reform initiatives, patient care, and avoidance of lawsuits, may in fact be the best communicators and team members.

And in that case, the eight medical schools adding personality assessments to their application processes may be ahead of the curve.