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Physician-Researcher Receives NIH Grant for Improving Patient-Provider Communications

Tessie W. October

Washington, DC –Tessie October, MD, MPH, a critical care physician and researcher at Children’s National Health System and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The George Washington University, received a perfectly scored K23 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study “Enhancing Parent-Provider Communication During Critical Illness.”

When families end up in a critical care setting such as the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), it’s because their child is seriously ill or injured. Recognizing that this represents an emotionally challenging setting for families to navigate, Dr. October saw a need for better training and research around how critical care doctors communicate with their patients and families.

“When I first entered the PICU environment, I realized that I didn’t necessarily have all the tools to communicate effectively all the time,” Dr. October says. Since then, Dr. October has dedicated her research to studying what makes patient-provider communications most successful in a critical care setting.

Children’s National is one of only a few institutions studying pediatric patient-provider communications in the critical care setting, with research led by Dr. October. The NIH is funding a four-year grant that begins April 2015 and includes a communication skills program for physicians.

Dr. October’s work is unique in that it will analyze outcomes at both the physician and family levels. Instead of only surveying families regarding perceived improvements in their physician’s communications, her research will also review audio from patient-provider meetings to determine how the physician’s communication developed as a result of the intervention. She says it’s a new approach to studying provider communications.

“This is a significantly understudied area of research,” says Dr. October. “There is a huge need to gain a better understanding of how physicians are communicating with families and to then create interventions to optimize these communications.”

“Communication plays a key role in our job as physicians to explain treatment and care and appreciate a family’s needs during such a delicate time,” says David Wessel, MD, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Hospital and Specialty Services, and the Ikaria Distinguished Professor of Critical Care Medicine. “Dr. October’s research is meaningful not just to the clinicians and families of patients receiving critical care at Children’s National but in care settings everywhere.”

Dr. October’s research could have an impact on provider communications outside the critical care setting as both doctors and patients benefit from improved communication. Understanding a family’s goals and preferences allows physicians to better counsel and present recommendations that are tailored to the family’s preferences leading to improved quality of care and earlier decision-making for treatments.

Dr. October says, “We’re at a point in healthcare where we need to reduce costs and advance quality. Improving communications is a low cost, highly efficient way to do just that.”

Contact: Caitlyn Camacho at 202-476-4500.


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