Recently, Childhood Obesity News considered the intellectual and emotional obesity-related biases that are sometimes found in a medical practice. “Can Sub-Optimal Attitudes Change?” discussed prejudices and attitudes that nursing students are likely to bring to their professional education. We also touched on the question of who should actually be teaching nutrition to patients.
Like any other variety of conscientious professional, doctors are called upon to learn new things. In some cases, new things that they may have no particular inclination to learn. They have invested enormous amounts of time and money in education, endured their grueling medical apprenticeships, practiced for years, and acquired reputations. How does anyone dare suggest that they need to relearn?
For doctors, obesity management is an area where life comes at them fast. News becomes old very quickly, and every time they turn around, there is some new theory to be assimilated into the body of knowledge. Most important of all are the new skills that are needed, like figuring out how to tell parents that their child is heading toward obesity.
Learning by simulation
It is axiomatic that, while empathy cannot be taught in a classroom, communication skills can — and modern technology makes it possible to skip the classroom and turn on an electronic device. The makers of Change Talk 2.0 believe that their role-playing game can teach the necessary skills. (The first version concentrated on obesity; the second includes breastfeeding and healthy snacking habits.)
Long ago, primitive computer-generated entities like Racter and Eliza showed a nascent but astonishing ability to partake with a human in something that could be mistaken for an actual conversation. Now, the cybernetic descendants of those synthetic personalities have morphed into concerned parents and troubled children — or heedless parents and kids who feel no need to change — which is much more difficult to deal with.
The sensation of communicating with genuine humans can be eerie. The doctor or medical student gets the chance to interact with what seems like a real family, and to learn how effective (or not) different approaches and responses can be. The experience is nowhere near virtual reality, but it doesn’t need to be. Chiefly the medics have the opportunity to practice their lines over and over again until empathy flows naturally.
Pediatrician and development team member Christopher Bolling told Fast Company reporter Christina Farr that the app is built on motivational interviewing techniques. Since 2014, 30,000 professionals have tried it.
As with most obesity-related topics, the need for further research is clear. Farr says:
It’s demonstrated some success at training doctors, although it remains to be seen whether patients are thriving over the long term. A case study from The American Academy of Pediatrics found that 93% of physicians surveyed intended to make a change to provide better health care after using the simulation. After a one-month follow up, 88% did make the changes they indicated.
With such a high percentage making real-world change, this sounds like a very inspirational and motivating experience. Doctors are probably not the type to rate something highly just to be polite and agreeable. It is quite possible that this kind of learning experience could contribute to a quiet revolution in the doctor-patient relationship.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!