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To amend the ailing doctor-patient relationship, many physicians and ethicists have called for greater concentration during medical education on communication skills and the psychosocial aspects of the medical encounter. Heeding these calls, Dr. William G. Harless at Georgetown University has developed a new interactive tool upon which medical students can practice their skills (Chronide of Higher Education, 11 September 1991). The Technological Innovation in Medical Education project, known as TIME, consists of a computer combined with a videodisk and voice-recognition technology.

To use TIME, students, through their professor, ask questions of an electronic simulation of a "patient" that appears on a television monitor. The "patient" looks back at the students and responds to their questions by having the computer select an appropriate video track to answer the question. Simulating a patient interview, physical examination, or treatment, the computer changes the condition of the patient on the monitor in reaction to the student's decisions. Currently, six simulated cases, including patients with schizophrenia and emphysema, are available on videodisk.

The technology was developed in part of compensate for a dearth of real patients, brought on by such factors as improved medical procedures and stricter insurance requirements that have shortened the length of hospital stays. Yet technology has often been fingered as one of the culprits responsible for the current strain in the doctor-patient relationship ...

Either technology may finally overcome its reputation for distancing doctor and patient by helping to give medical students the breadth of experience and sensitivity necessary to bridge the gap, or the computer screen will allow medical students the opportunity to grow accustomed to simply another substitute--along with lab procedures, mechanical devices, and monitors--for the living, breathing human beings that they treat.--Julie Rothstein
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Title Annotation:Technological Innovation in Medical Education project, designed to improve physicians' communications skills
Author:Rothstein, Julie
Publication:The Hastings Center Report
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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