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“Using patients to teach students” - a new project to change the way doctors treat back pain.

Publication date: Mar 13, 2006 3:47:12 PM

A project that has already significantly improved patient care for rheumatoid arthritis is now being extended to treat back pain. Over 120 students have taken part in a pilot project at University College London (UCL) that requires patients to teach and evaluate medical students. The project aims to improve back pain treatment, and will help train both GPs and students. Details of the scheme were set out today by Dr Inam Haq, Educational Research Fellow at the Academic Centre for Medical Education, UCL.

The project aimed to make medical students more aware of patient needs and more knowledgeable about back pain and some of the alternative treatments available. Previous work, which focussed on training patients with rheumatoid arthritis, has been successful, with medical students performing better in medical examinations and communicating better with patients after attending the course. The new, more far-reaching scheme, will focus on the treatment of back pain. The current project was funded by the Arthritis Research Campaign (arc).

According to a recent survey, 50-70% of the world’s population admit to having suffered from back pain in the past month. One UK study estimated costs related to sick leave due to back pain to be between £6.6 and £12.3 million in 1998. Although back pain is a common cause of pain and disability in the community, most cases are not treated in hospitals, so some students may leave medical school without adequate experience of how to treat it. This new programme bridges any potential gap in know-how.

Patients involved in the programme were given intensive training in rheumatology, anatomy, non-drug therapy, patient examination and history taking and as well as educational theory and student evaluation. The patients were then ready to teach students in a series of seminars on back pain.

Dr Inam Haq said: “The course has proven to build confidence in medical students. They communicate more effectively and compassionately with patients. The pilot project has been a great success and we are looking to include this type of teaching in the medical curriculum. We are also using the Patient Partners to talk to General Practitioners, which has been proving successful. There would be scope to use this exciting and innovative teaching method in patients with other chronic diseases such as osteoarthritis or osteoporosis."

Notes to editors:

  1. The presentation by Inam Haq will be given at this week’s Teaching and Learning Conference at 4pm on Wednesday 31st March in UCL's Wilkins Building, Gower Street, London WC1.
  2. For further information on “Teaching & Learning at UCL: The Way forward 2004” and details of all of the presentations, please visit the website at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/Library/TL2004/
  3. For copies of papers being delivered, or to interview Inam Haq, please contact Alex Brew on 0207 679 9726 a.brew@ucl.ac.uk