Person Centered Communication in Healthcare: A Matter of Reaching Out

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Sandra van Dulmen


Treating patients as persons, by considering, a.o., their individual level of understanding, self-management skills, concerns and care preferences, is only logical, at least from an ethical point of view. Yet, in medical practice, such an approach does not come easy, as many other obligations and formalities have to be taken care of which distract attention from the person behind the patient. As a consequence, many patients continue to experience barriers while communicating with their healthcare provider [1]. For this reason, numerous interventions have been developed and implemented to either increase healthcare professionals’ attitudes and communication skills to really engage with a patient, or to strengthen a patient's communication skills in order to be heard and understood. For patients with malignant lymphoma, for example, a tailored online intervention has been developed to increase their participation [2], and medical students learn to listen by using open questions in soliciting patient problems [3]. The three papers that together form a special section on communication in healthcare in this issue of the IJPCM each describe a different study aimed to enhance a patient's personhood.

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Author Biography

Sandra van Dulmen

A.M. (Sandra) studied clinical psychology. After graduation in 1997 (cum laude), she started working as a researcher in different fields of health care, first at the Department of Clinical Psychology, then from 1988-1995, at the Department of General Practice at the University of Nijmegen. She obtained her PhD degree in 1996 with the thesis titled “Exploring cognitions in irritable bowel syndrome; implications for the role of the doctor”. For her thesis she received the dissertation award from the Netherlands School of Primary Care Research (CaRe). From 1995 onwards she works at NIVEL (Netherlands institute for health services research), first as a researcher, since 1999 as the co-ordinator of the research program Communication in Healthcare. In 2001 she was co-founder and since then the secretary of EACH (European Association for Communication in Healthcare). She obtained numerous grants for her communication studies, varying from observational research in general practices and hospitals to intervention studies among medical students, specialists, nurses as well as among patients with minor ailments, type 1 or type 2 diabetes, IBS, or cancer. A core feature of her work is the (video)observation and analysis of the communication in the consulting room between a patient and a health care professional. She collaborates within several international research projects. Currently Sandra van Dulmen supervises seven PhD students. She has published around 50 national and 100 international papers in peer-reviewed journals. A selection of these include:Oerlemans S, Van Cranenburgh O, Herremans P-J, Spreeuwenberg P, Van Dulmen S. Intervening on cognitions and behaviour in irritable bowel syndrome: a feasibility trial using PDAs. J Psychosom Res 2011 (in press)Weert J van, Jansen J, Spreeuwenberg P, Dulmen S van, Bensing J. Effects of a Communication Skills Training to improve Communication with Older Cancer Patients: A Randomized controlled trial . Critical Reviews in Oncology/Hematology 2011 (in press)Noordman J, Verhaak P, I. van Beljouw I van, Dulmen S van. Discussing patient’s (un)healthy lifestyle in the consulting room: analysis of GP-patient consultations between 1975 and 2008. BMC Fam Pract 2010; 11(1): 87Dulmen S van, Groot J de, Koster D, Heiligers Ph. Why seek complementary medicine? An observational study in homeopathic, acupunctural and naturopathic medical practices. Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine 2010; 7: 20Albada A, Dulmen S van, Otten R, Bensing JM, Ausems MGEM. The development of E-info geneca: a computer-tailored intervention prior to breast cancer genetic counselling. J Gen Couns 2009; 18: 326-338Morren M, Dulmen S van, Ouwerkerk J,  Bensing J. Compliance with momentary pain measurement using electronic diaries: A systematic review. Eur J Pain 2009; 13: 354-365Dulmen S van, Tromp F, Grosfeld F, Cate Th J ten, Bensing JM. The impact of assessing simulated bad news consultations on medical students’ stress response and communication performance. Psychoneuroendocrinology 2007;  32: 943–950Zwaanswijk M, Tates K, Dulmen S van, Hoogerbrugge PM, Kamps W, Bensing J. Young patients’, parents’, and survivors’ communication preferences in paediatric oncology: Using online focus groups to develop a structured questionnaire. BMC Pediatrics 2007; 7: 35Dijk L van, Heerdink ER, Somai D, Dulmen AM van, Ridder DT de, Sluijs EM, Griens AMGF, Bensing JM. Patient risk profiles and practice variation in nonadherence to antidepressants, antihypertensives and oral hypoglycemics. BMC Health Serv Res. 2007 Apr 10;7(1):51Dulmen S van, Sluijs E, Dijk L van, Ridder D de, Heerdink R, Bensing J. Patient Adherence to medical treatment: a review of reviews. BMC Health Services Research. BMC Health Services Research 2007, 7:55 


Henselmans, I., Heijmans, M., Rademakers, J., Dulmen, S. van (2015). Participation of chronic patients in medical consultations: patients' perceived efficacy, barriers and interest in support. Health Expect;18(6):2375-2388.

Bruinessen, I.R. van, Weel-Baumgarten, E.M. van, Snippe, H.W., Gouw, H., Zijlstra, J.M., Dulmen, S. van. (2014). User driven eHealth. Patient participatory development and testing of a computer tailored communication training for patients with malignant lymphoma. JMIR Research Protocols; 3(4): e59

Tsai, M.H., Lu, F.H., Frankel, R.M. (2013). Learning to listen: Effects of using conversational transcripts to help medical students improve their use of open questions in soliciting patient problems. Patient Educ Couns; 93: 48-55.