Sarah Goodwin

Kathi Ovnic
Holly Korschun
June 18, 1998
THE DOCTOR-PATIENT RELATIONSHIP: Enhanced through the Kaleidoscope of a Multicultural Perspective


That, according to Emory's Donald W. Brady, M.D., is the foundation upon which the doctor-patient relationship is built -- and may just be the magic bullet spurring patients to do the "impossible": quit smoking, give up the French fries, take medication as directed, start walking.

But like impurities that weaken cement, a number of factors can compromise the trust-building process in a medical setting. Cultural, religious and ethnic differences can undermine attempts at intimacy and frankness, says Dr. Brady, who is dedicated to helping medical professionals identify and come to terms with factors such these.

Just this month, Dr. Brady and William Branch, M.D., director of the Division of General Medicine in the Department of Medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine, gathered experts in trust-building to Emory University for the 16th Annual Faculty Development Course of the American Academy on Physician and Patient, titled Through the Kaleidoscope: Teaching Medical Interviewing from a Multicultural Perspective. More than 80 doctors and 20 expert teachers from across the United States and Norway, England, Japan, Switzerland and Denmark worked in small groups to (sometimes painfully) identify and change factors that may prejudice their own interactions with patients.

"The course was a tremendous success," says Dr. Brady, who is an assistant professor of Medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine. "People from across the U.S. and foreign countries gathered for two purposes -- to learn how to teach better patient interviewing skills and to examine how culture, in its broadest definition, influences the doctor-patient relationship."

Dr. Branch, who has taught in 10 of the Academy's courses, brings an emphasis on patient-doctor communication to his work at Emory, and he and Dr. Brady have incorporated many of the teaching methods employed by the Academy courses into their Primary Care Residency Program based at Grady Memorial Hospital.

The Emory doctors are adamant that physicians and other health care providers work on improving patient communication so that they may serve as better role models for the medical students they teach.

"Cutbacks in medical education have meant that teaching these skills is no longer designated to only special faculty," Dr. Brady says. "Instead, front-line preceptors must teach and model the skills.

"More minority faculty must be trained in these skills to serve as role models for the increasing number of minority medical students and residents," he says.

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