Schillinger Awarded for Outstanding Research Contributing to Effective Communication

Dean Schillinger

Dean Schillinger, MD, UCSF professor of medicine, received the 14th Annual George Engel Award for Outstanding Research Contributing to the Theory, Practice and Teaching of Effective Health Care Communication and Related Skills. 

He received the award during the International Conference in Communication in Healthcare in Miami Beach, Florida on Oct. 5th.

Schillinger is the director of the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations (CVP) at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) and chief of the California Diabetes and Prevention Program. 

CVP is a practice-based research center where scientists’ work has helped translate research into community and public health practice, as well as infuse local practice back into research. Beyond the local communities it serves, CVP is nationally and internationally known for its research in health communication and health policy to reduce health disparities.

Serving the local, regional and global communities and eliminating health disparities is part of the vision outlined in the UCSF Strategic Plan. The plan, released in June 2007, calls on the University to leverage UCSF’s research expertise, modeling best practices in clinical care and integrating content on health disparities throughout the continuum of learning.

Talmadge King, MD, chair of the Department of Medicine in the UCSF School of Medicine, nominated Schillinger for this prestigious award in recognition of his enormous and impactful work.

The American Academy on Communication in Healthcare presents this award in honor of Dr. George L. Engel, an internist with psychoanalytic training whose articulation of the “biopsychosocial model” in the 1970s and widespread recognition in the 1980s had a profound impact on the clinical approach to patients, the medical interview, and the patient-doctor relationship.

Making an Impact

Schillinger’s research has both defined the field of health literacy as well as advanced the larger discipline of health communication sciences. The impact of his work includes (1) :

  • demonstrating the disproportionately critical role that communication plays in all aspects of health care delivery for vulnerable populations, including its contributions to access, quality, and safety and (2)
  • developing curricular and programmatic content for practitioners and health systems to improve health communication for patients with communication barriers (e.g. language and literacy).

Schillinger’s research has demonstrated the scientific links between health communication, health care quality, patient safety and clinical outcomes, as well as provided evidenced-based, systems-directed solutions to improve communications for populations with communications barriers. He has shown that for patients who are usually considered ‘“hard-to-reach,’” developing communication expertise at the individual clinician level, as well as communication capacity at the health system level, can yield disproportionate gains in health for vulnerable populations, and can help sustain the clinicians who care for them.

He has applied a range of research methods geared toward vulnerable populations to demonstrate the effects of communication barriers and sub-optimal communication on health care experiences and health outcomes; identify clinician communication behaviors; and apply theory to inform literacy and language-appropriate health system interventions. This work positions Schillinger as a key member of the “translational research” community at UCSF. 

Schillinger’s work was one of the reasons why, in 2005, the American Medical Association recognized SFGH for developing exemplary programs to improve communication between health care professionals and patients.

Schillinger also has influenced practice through his efforts to advance a health communications agenda in the health policy arena. Arguing that health literacy reflects the balance between the communication demands of the health system and the current capacities of the patients they serve (Am J Bioethics 2007), he has leveraged results of his communication research to affect change to promote systems changes in quality and patient safety at the local, state, and national levels.

For example, he provided key input to the American College of Physicians Foundation Health Communication Initiative and co-created the limited-literacy communication, Living Well with Diabetes Guide, which has been distributed in English and Spanish to more than 1,000,000 people with diabetes. He has worked with public and private groups including the National Quality Forum; the American Medical Association; the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations; the National Association of Public Hospital Systems; the Institute of Medicine; and the US Surgeon General. 

Dr. Schillinger also has been a mentor for more than 25 research fellows and junior faculty at UCSF in the field of communication (in multiple disciplines including nursing, pharmacy, adult literacy, public health and medicine), many of whom have gone on to have successful careers in the field. He also developed curriculum and teaches medical residents in the UCSF Primary Care Training Programs on such topics as shared decision-making, health literacy, overcoming language barriers, and eliciting patient narratives.

Schillinger earned his MD degree at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine in 1991. He served a residency in primary care medicine at UCSF in 1994 and became chief medical resident at SFGH in 1995.

Related Links:

Schillinger Wins Health Literacy in Advancing Patient Safety Award
UCSF Today, May 22, 2008

UCSF Strategic Plan