Using Acting to Connect with Patients in the COVID-19 Era

At Stanford, one attempt to teach communication between patients and providers: at a previous Stanford 25 symposium, John Kugler, MD, takes a turn as a patient


“Communication between patients and their medical providers is always critical to a good outcome. But in the era of COVID-19, there are barriers to that communication,” writes Mark Eichmann in a WHYY feature. As discussed by Stanford Medicine 25, today’s providers are all too familiar with the challenges presented by technology and personal protective equipment, and many are looking for solutions to maintain connection with their patients.

Eichmann highlights one such solution in his article: acting for medical students. In addition to clinical training, medical students at the University of Delaware also participate in a “healthcare theater” to develop communication skills that help them build trust and personal connection with patients. Director of Healthcare Theater Allan Carlsen tells Eichmann that students work with actors who “portray patients suffering various ailments” and display “personalities that healthcare workers might encounter on the job.”

The program has been in place since 2009, but the training holds particular value in today’s environment. With the rise of telehealth, the focus is now about making and maintaining connection via video. Carlsen says the methodology has shifted to teaching an actor to act in front of a camera as opposed to on stage, and students learn by reviewing videos of the interactions and receiving feedback on their performance.

We’ve also recognized acting as a tool for helping form genuine relationships with patients so we're excited to see the approach revisited as a way to preserve this critical aspect of care during the COVID-19 era.

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