In April, the United States celebrates National Public Health Week (NPHW) to raise awareness about and help solve public health issues affecting communities across the country. Each day of NPHW focuses on a single public health topic. Friday is dedicated to education because healthcare professionals need to be good educators to their patients, especially pediatric patients. Therefore, developing communication skills is vital to educating patients about their illness and treatment and improving outcomes.
Addressing a major public health issue with communication skills
Pediatric medication nonadherence is a major problem in the United States with the rates of compliance varying widely, but at least one-third of patients fail to complete relatively short-term treatment regimens. One of the significant causes of nonadherence is that healthcare workers (HCW) do not effectively communicate with and educate their patients about their treatment plan.
When the patient and their parent(s)/guardian(s) understand the disease and the treatment plan, they are more likely to adhere to that plan. However, there is little programmatic or curricular emphasis on building good communication skills in medical or nursing schools. As such, Gaumard’s Pediatric HAL was created so HCWs can receive training in patient-provider communication skills and ensure the best outcomes for their patients.
Pediatric HAL was designed in consultation with pediatric nurses and physicians to recreate the facial expressions and verbal cues witnessed in real pediatric patients. Thus, he has very realistic facial expressions that allow care providers to develop an emotional connection with the patient. Participants can also communicate with HAL and practice providing empathetic care.
The importance of communication skills to patient care
The challenge HCWs face when providing care to pediatric patients, especially those with common chronic conditions like asthma, is that children have not developed the cognitive skills to understand complex information about their diagnosis or treatment. Furthermore, as children grow, different strategies for communicating information to them will need to be applied to ensure adherence.
Through HAL’s lifelike facial expressions, realistic emotions, and speech, HCWs can develop the communication skills necessary to provide simple explanations for a diagnosis while being nonthreatening and reassuring to the patient. Striking this balance can be difficult, but in a simulated scenario, participants can make mistakes, learn from them, and continue to practice and improve over time.
Since HAL’s emotional states and speech can approximate realistic behavior, students can become adept at interacting with pediatric patients regardless of where they are in their developmental cycle. Thus, scenarios can be designed wherein participants learn how to reassure the patient and keep them calm if treatment is painful like an injection.
Moreover, real equipment can be used on HAL, so the participant can use an actual needle during the scenario to enhance the realism of the event. As was illustrated in a previous blog post, adults learn best when they learn by doing.
Simulation sessions are not passive, as they create opportunities for participants to work hands-on, think critically, and make decisions as they would during a real medical event. Scenarios require participants to consider how they will communicate information and perform the treatment. This helps prepare them for the demands of the real world and to build the skills that ensure safe and effective care.
Developing communication skills through scenario-based training
Case in point, in 2018, the Columbia University School of Nursing added scenarios for pediatric communication to its clinical simulation curriculum. By using Pediatric HAL in the scenarios, the sim center staff are helping to develop the specialized skills needed to effectively communicate with, diagnose, and treat young patients in all clinical settings.
One such scenario involved a team of nurses working to diagnose a pediatric patient with signs of asthma. Throughout the scenario, the nurses had to use communication skills to accomplish several tasks. For example, initially, the patient was too agitated to allow for an accurate diagnosis. So, the participants calmed the patient by providing empathetic and reassuring communication that allowed them to collect information and perform their assessment.
Moreover, when a diagnostic test required the patient to take a painful deep breath, the participants clearly explained why the test was needed without using technical terms and comforted him when he felt pain. By the end of the scenario, the nurses were able to diagnose asthma and obtain his cooperation to begin treatment by educating and couching the patient.
The importance of communication skills cannot be understated when dealing with pediatric patients. By ensuring HCWs are educators and communicators, pediatric patients will receive better care and be more likely to adhere to treatment. By ensuring patients have the knowledge to maintain their health, communities can tackle a significant public health issue and improve outcomes over time.
To watch the complete video of Pediatric HAL showing off his communication skills, please visit the Yahoo Finance website or the Gaumard website. To learn more about any of Gaumard’s other patient simulators, please click on the link.
 Winnick, Sheldon, et al. “How Do You Improve Compliance?.” Pediatrics, vol. 115, no. 6, 2005, pp. 718-724.