Thesis: How do doctors talk to patients about sensitive topics?

During the last couple of weeks, I’ve been putting the final touches on my thesis research project. The question in the title of this post is the general question I’m pursuing with my thesis research.

A recent article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education reminded us that “despite decades of research, hundreds of campus task forces, and millions invested in bold experiments, college drinking remains as much of a problem as ever.” Thus, alcohol intervention conversations between medical providers and students about alcohol can be crucial to reducing problems associated with college binge drinking.

Presenting at my oral defense

Presenting at my oral defense

However, medical providers sometimes avoid alcohol-related conversations or brief alcohol interventions. So, I pursued with my thesis research the more specific question of, how do medical providers in university health centers communicate with patients about the sensitive topic of patient alcohol use?

Results from my qualitative analysis of 14 interviews with medical providers suggest that medical providers utilize the following communication techniques during alcohol-related conversations with patients:

Reading, writing, editing, reviewing, diagramming, etc etc etc!

The process: reading, writing, analyzing, editing, reviewing, diagramming, reflecting, etc etc etc!

  •  gathering more information (beyond screening data)
  • creating a nonthreatening environment
  • providing education about consequences
  • eliciting patient ownership
  • providing tips for harm reduction
  • continuing the conversation

Additionally, providers reported the following communication challenges to conducting brief alcohol interventions in this context:

  • choosing how and when to start the conversation
  • diagnosing a resistant population
  • establishing necessary rapport for a sensitive conversation
  • maintaining credibility despite uncertainty about the efficacy of interventions

With my poster at the graduate research symposium

I presented this research at the 10th annual NCSU Graduate Research Symposium earlier this month. My hope is that some of this research will be helpful to medical professionals in the field. I am also looking forward to submitting this research for publication. For now, I’m glad to be wrapping up this phase of my research!

With my committee at oral defense, from left to right: Chair, Dr. Deanna Dannels; Dr. Jessica Jameson; and Dr. Kami Kosenko

With my committee at oral defense, from left to right: Chair, Dr. Deanna Dannels; Dr. Jessica Jameson; me; and Dr. Kami Kosenko

I began this project more than a year ago and cannot be more excited to see it all come together! My thanks to the medical providers who met with me, the health center administrators who helped with this project, and to my committee.

 

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