Rationale: Although expert communication between intensive care unit clinicians with patients or surrogates improves patient- and family-centered outcomes, fellows in critical care medicine do not feel adequately trained to conduct family meetings. Objectives: We aimed to develop, implement, and evaluate a communication skills program that could be easily integrated into a U.S. critical care fellowship. Methods: We developed four simulation cases that provided communication challenges that critical care fellows commonly face. For each case, we developed a list of directly observable tasks that could be used by faculty to evaluate fellows during each simulation. We developed a didactic curriculum of lectures/case discussions on topics related to palliative care, end-of-life care, communication skills, and bioethics; this month-long curriculum began and ended with the fellows leading family meetings in up to two simulated cases with direct observation by faculty who were not blinded to the timing of the simulation. Our primary measures of effectiveness were the fellows' self-reported change in comfort with leading family meetings after the program was completed and the quality of the communication as measured by the faculty evaluators during the family meeting simulations at the end of the month. Measurements and Main Results: Over 3 years, 31 critical care fellows participated in the program, 28 of whom participated in 101 family meeting simulations with direct feedback by faculty facilitators. Our trainees showed high rates of information disclosure during the simulated family meetings. During the simulations done at the end of the month compared with those done at the beginning, our fellows showed significantly improved rates in: (1) verbalizing an agenda for the meeting (64 vs. 41%; Chi-square, 5.27; P = 0.02), (2) summarizing what will be done for the patient (64 vs. 39%; Chi-square, 6.21; P = 0.01), and (3) providing a follow-up plan (60 vs. 37%; Chi-square, 5.2; P = 0.02). More than 95% of our participants (n = 27) reported feeling "slightly" or "much" more comfortable with discussing foregoing life-sustaining treatment and leading family discussions after the month-long curriculum. Conclusions: A communication skills program can be feasibly integrated into a critical care training program and is associated with improvements in fellows' skills and comfort with leading family meetings.
- Communication skills
- Critical illness
- Medical education
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine