Published: Jan. 24, 2013

Faculty conversations: Robert Smith

By: Zack Pena Media Communications Zack.Pena@cabs.msu.eduContact(s): Jennifer Trenkamp Communication Arts And Sciences office: 517-432-5255

Health care typically focuses on diseases rather than patients. But if Robert Smith has his way, it won’t be long before we see major changes to the way doctors relate to their patients.

Smith began his effort to bring patient-centeredness to modern medicine in 1985 when he first arrived at Michigan State University. He and his colleagues are the first to systematize and define the patient centered interview.

“What we’re advocating is to focus on the disease but also its personal and emotional context,” he said. “(Patient centeredness) brings in your personal, emotional and social dimensions. It still addresses your disease - it simply adds these other pieces to it.”

Now that his research is nearing completion, Smith said he wants to develop programs around the nation to teach doctors his new method and to show that it is more efficient than current practices.

Smith said professionals have been reluctant to teach patient centered health care in the past because they fear it may be more time consuming.

“Once someone learns how to do this, it adds no time at all,” he said. “This has been demonstrated in research - it takes no longer to do this and it’s actually more efficient over time because people don’t keep bringing up the same things over and over.”

Although he knows such a major change won’t come easily, he’s confident that he’s on the right track to change medicine to benefit both patients and doctors.

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Robert Smith, professor of medicine. Photo by G.L. Kohuth

Robert Smith, professor of medicine. Photo by G.L. Kohuth