TOPCATS makes it easier for patients to provide doctor feedback

Team TOPCATS (L to R Myung Sun Choi, Jennifer Hu, Abby Koff, Devan Patel) with NBME executive director, Dr. Lewis First. Image courtesy of TOPCATS.

Team TOPCATS (L to R Myung Sun Choi, Jennifer Hu, Abby Koff, Devan Patel) with NBME executive director, Dr. Lewis First. Image courtesy of TOPCATS.

When it comes to being a great doctor, good bedside manner can go a long way. Patient empathy is a critical part of the curriculum in medical school. But as busy med students will tell you, focus on the skill often falls by the wayside.

Yet according to a March 2015 story from Kaiser Health News, studies are linking doctor empathy for patients with a greater patient satisfaction rate, decreased doctor burnout and a lower risk of errors and malpractice lawsuits.

A team of University of Pittsburgh Medical School students wants to bring power back to the patients using their award-winning app TOPCATS (Trainee-Oriented Patient Communication Assessment System), to improve students’ bedside manner with meaningful and honest feedback.

“Most, if not all of us, are patients at some point in our lives, and currently, we don’t have a convenient way of delivering honest and useful feedback to our health care providers,” explains third-year Pitt medical student and TOPCATS founder Myung Sun Choi.

“Consequently, some patients end up resorting to public reviews or rants on websites, which never lead to meaningful change.”

Earlier this summer, Choi and her fellow Pitt Med School teammates, Jennifer Hu, Abby Koff and Devan Patel, submitted the idea for TOPCATS to the National Board of Medical Examiners’ (NBME) Centennial Prize Competition which awards innovative ideas in the health care market.

Devan Patel, Abby Koff, and Jennifer Hu presenting TOPCATS at the NBME Centennial Meeting. Image courtesy of TOPCATS.

Devan Patel, Abby Koff, and Jennifer Hu presenting TOPCATS at the NBME Centennial Meeting. Image courtesy of TOPCATS.

TOPCATS took first place in the competition, and will be developing the app with the help of NBME’s Product Development Team as Centennial Fellows.

The team is developing the app for the market they know best, medical school students.

TOPCATS works to train students to improve their “sense of empathy and communication skills with real patient feedback, self-reflection and tailored resources,” explains Choi. By implementing it with students, medical schools can track student performance and directly address weak points in workshops or curriculum.

Patients will access TOPCATS through the app or web page and assess their interaction with the medical student using a unique ID, says Jennifer Hu. “Patients will be able to rate their medical students on objective and subjective measures, and provide short narrative feedback or advice on what would make the student a better physician in the future.”

Hu says that TOPCATS will eventually target health care professionals at different levels and disciplines. Using the data they’ve already generated, TOPCATS will be able to help hospitals improve patient satisfaction and health care provider and patient relationships.

“We envision that TOPCATS will teach skills that will stay with students not only during medical school but throughout their careers,” says Choi, “helping shape a new generation of compassionate and considerate physicians.”