Communication Skills Training at Johns Hopkins Medicine: Empowering Cancer Patients and Caregivers

Intervention Area: Johns Hopkins Clinical Research Network (JHCRN)

BALTIMORE – A multi-disciplinary team from Johns Hopkins Medicine has developed an innovative communications training program designed to encourage active participation in managing cancer-related care. Unlike existing training models, which focus almost exclusively on patients or physicians, this intervention combines the use of technology and long standing research on medical communication to reach all real world participants in a medical conversation. The program involves patients, their caregivers, and physicians, following the notion that all participants in a conversation have the potential to influence its focus and content, and caregivers often have an active role in managing a loved one’s cancer care.

The learning curriculum was informed by decades of medical communication research showing that mastery of key skills has the potential to enrich relationships between patients and their medical team, positively affecting patients’ experience of care, and increasing clinical effectiveness. The training is built around patient video profiles, created with a variety of medical needs and cultural backgrounds in mind: patients are matched with their best fit for a more inclusive experience. Patients, caregivers, and physicians have the chance to develop a wide variety of skills, including how to ask questions about treatment options and side effects, the best way to evaluate and address treatment challenges and obstacles, and collaborating in shared treatment decision-making. The overarching goal is to build an emotional rapport between patients, their treating physicians, and the patient’s caregivers.

The video scripts were developed in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Community Advisory Groups, a dedicated group of local volunteers, cancer survivors, and other interested stakeholders. These long-standing collaborators live in Baltimore City and Prince George’s county, areas that have been especially affected by issues related to cancer access and socioeconomic disparities. The communication-training curriculum is currently being piloted on a controlled scale, but it has the potential to be deployed throughout the Johns Hopkins Clinical Research Network (JHCRN), which encompasses over 8 million of racially and ethnically diverse populations living in urban, suburban, and rural communities.

Facts and Figures

  • Twenty-five percent of JHCRN patients are from a vulnerable, underserved population, which includes individuals who are more than 60 years old and live in a zip code tied to statistically higher cancer mortality rates.
  • When a patient’s care partner helps facilitate communication behaviors, patients rate their physicians 42% higher on clarity and 29% higher on interpersonal skills than patients with less facilitative care partners.

About the Johns Hopkins Center to Reduce Cancer Disparities

The Johns Hopkins Center to Reduce Cancer Disparities (CRCD) was established in 2010 with the aim of providing equal access and quality services for cancer prevention, screening, treatment, and survivorship. The center relies on community partners that advise on setting research priorities and engaging the community. The CRDC is committed to reaching diverse and underserved communities to provide education, training, and research support; their outreach efforts help inform lawmakers, health professionals, and those working to improve health.

About Johns Hopkins Medicine

Headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins Medicine unites physicians and scientists of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine with the organizations, health professionals and facilities of The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System. The mission of Johns Hopkins Medicine is to improve the health of the community and the world by setting the standard of excellence in medical education, research and clinical care.

About the Alliance to Advance Patient-Centered Cancer Care

The Alliance to Advance Patient-Centered Cancer Care, a multi-site initiative funded by the Merck Foundation, works to increase timely access to patient-centered care and reduce health disparities among under-served populations in the United States. The Alliance includes the following organizations: Georgia Cancer Center for Excellence at Grady Health System, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, The University of Arizona Cancer Center, and University of Michigan School of Nursing, which serves as the National Program Office (NPO). For more information, visit the Alliance to Advance Patient-Centered Cancer Care’s website at

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