Building Rapport and Earning the Surgical Patient's Trust in the Era of Social Distancing: Teaching Patient-Centered Communication During Video Conference Encounters to Medical Students.

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



J Surg Educ






COVID-19; Education, Medical, Undergraduate; General Surgery; Humans; Pandemics; Patient-Centered Care; Physical Distancing; Physician-Patient Relations; SARS-CoV-2; Trust; Videoconferencing




BACKGROUND: Effective physician communication improves care, and many medical schools and residency programs have adopted communication focused curricula. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the doctor-patient communication paradigm with the rapid adoption of video-based medical appointments by the majority of the medical community. The pandemic has also necessitated a sweeping move to online learning, including teaching and facilitating the practice of communication skills remotely. We aimed to identify effective techniques for surgeons to build relationships during a video consult, and to design and pilot a class that increased student skill in communicating during a video consult.

METHODS: Fourth-year medical students matched into a surgical internship attended a 2-hour class virtually. The class provided suggestions for building rapport and earning trust with patients and families by video, role play sessions with a simulated patient, and group debriefing and feedback. A group debriefing generated lessons learned and best practices for telemedicine communication in surgery.

RESULTS: Students felt the class introduced new skills and reinforced current ones; most reported higher self-confidence in target communication skills following the module. Students were particularly appreciative of opportunity for direct observation of skills and immediate faculty feedback, noting that the intimate setting was unique and valuable. Several elements of virtual communications required increased focus to communicate empathy and concern. Proper lighting and positioning relative to the camera were particularly important and body movement required "narration" to minimize misinterpretation. A patient's distress was more difficult to interpret; asking direct questions was recommended to understand the patient's emotional state.

CONCLUSIONS: There is a need to teach video-conference communication skills to enable surgical teams to build rapport in this distinct form of consultation. Our training plan appears effective at engaging learners and improving skills and confidence, and identifies areas of focus when teaching virtual communication skills.


This is an open access PubMed Central article.

Peer Reviewed


Open Access


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