Educating Patients on How to Speak to Their Physicians

The Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation awarded $671,000 to two Yale School of Medicine researchers developing an interactive computer tool to improve patient communication with physicians.

The system is designed to inform patients with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation about treatment options and make it more comfortable for them to discuss these choices with their physicians. The three-year grant was made to Terri Fried, M.D., associate professor of medicine, and Liana Fraenkel, M.D., associate professor of medicine and section chief of rheumatology at the VA in West Haven.

“Our intervention is based on a new conceptual model of ‘shared decision making,’” Fried said. “The goal is to increase the patients’ readiness to participate in the process and to improve the patients’ skills as communicators with the physicians.”

Nonvalvular atrial fibrillation is a cardiac arrhythmia affecting about two percent of the population. Patients with this condition are at higher risk for stroke. There are two medications used to prevent strokes in patients with atrial fibrillation: warfarin and aspirin. Warfarin is more effective, but has more side effects than aspirin, such as internal bleeding. Clinical guidelines for treatment are designed to improve the quality of care, but do not take into account patients’ preferences.

The intervention is designed to help patients evaluate the trade-offs involved in varying treatments for atrial fibrillation by explaining the risks and benefits of each option and helping them to decide which is best for them, based on what is important to them. The intervention also contains a component to improve patient-physician communication.

“We are pleased to be supporting this collaboration of Drs. Fried and Fraenkel, each a highly-regarded clinical researcher who focuses on real-life conditions that afflict many people,” said Lynne Garner, executive director of the Foundation.

Ethel Donaghue created the Donaghue Medical Research Foundation as a memorial to her parents. She directed in her will that the Foundation be used to provide “financial assistance for research … to promote medical knowledge which will be of practical benefit to the preservation, maintenance, and improvement of human life.”  Since its beginning in 1991, the Foundation has funded nearly $70 million in medical and health research in Connecticut.

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