Online learning interventions and small group debriefings can improve medical residents’ communication skills toward patients with substance abuse issues and may result in improved care.

That’s a conclusion in a study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University College of Medicine, published online in Academic Medicine.

The study of residents and medical students at Penn and Drexel found that residents showed increased confidence in their ability to screen and identify a substance use disorder, a more positive attitude towards their abilities and improved communication skills. However, among the medical students, there were no significant differences between the intervention and control groups, both of which improved over baseline.

Previous studies of educational interventions have shown improvement in screening and counseling patients with substance use disorders. However, these approaches haven’t been widely adopted, likely due to time constraints of current curricula. The authors suggest that Internet-based learning has the potential to reach large numbers of learners with both fewer logistical barriers than other educational formats and comparable or superior effectiveness and efficiency.

“The study findings with residents are promising because we saw that a relatively brief intervention yielded big changes in their attitudes and communication skills,” said co-lead author Paul N. Lanken, M.D. “Based on these results, we would expect improved medical care of patients with substance use disorders, but further studies are needed to look at practice-based and patient-centered outcomes in connection with this type of educational intervention.”

The study is available here.  

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