This virtual woman is very sick. Talking to her could make doctors more empathetic.

Giving a patient bad news can be uncomfortable, but med student Katie Goldrath had no choice.

Nobody likes to deliver bad news, but this was important. The patient, a young woman named Robin, had come in because she kept getting nosebleeds — and Goldrath had just learned the reason behind it was leukemia.

Goldrath knew Robin needed to get into treatment as soon as possible. She also knew if their conversation went poorly, Robin might get angry or even storm out, delaying her treatment ... and possibly endangering her life.


Luckily, if things spiraled out of control, Goldrath could always hit the redo button. That's because Robin wasn't a real person. Robin was part of a computer program called MPathic-VR, designed to help young doctors learn to communicate with their patients.

Robin. Image courtesy of Dr. Fred Kron/Medical Cyberworlds, Inc.

Goldrath's experience talking to Robin was part of a study to test out the program's potential.

A doctor’s words can change a person's life, but knowing what to say, and how to say it, isn't easy. It's a serious skill that has to be learned and mastered. Better communication can make patients feel better, both emotionally and physically. Poor communication, on the other hand, can lead to malpractice suits, patients not listening to their doctors, and sicker people.

Medical students like Goldrath usually go through special training to learn these skills. Common methods include multimedia trainings or holding mock conversations with students or actors standing in for the patient. But these can have downsides. The mock conversations can be expensive and hit or miss depending on how good the "patient’s" acting skills are. The "patient" might also not be able to give very detailed feedback.

A program like Robin's simulation might solve some of these common communication problems.

Motion capture was used to help produce Robin's range of facial expressions. Image courtesy of Dr. Fred Kron/Medical Cyberworlds, Inc.

Though talking to a computer might seem weird at first, Robin is designed to react as much like a real human as possible. She has her own expressions, mannerisms, and emotions. The software can also recognize what the student is saying and use a camera to track the student's body language. Even small eye movements don't go unnoticed.

"It was actually pretty incredible to see what it could pick up on," Goldrath said of her conversations with Robin. Did Goldrath lean in and look Robin in the eye, a welcoming, compassionate gesture, or did she act aloof and look away? The computer could record her body language and posture and provide feedback for the next time around.

The program also comes with two other scenarios for doctors to practice with: one that focuses on navigating family drama and another that involves talking one-on-one with a nurse who’s upset she’s been left out of previous conversations.

Doctors care about their patients. This tool can help them ensure their patients know that.

In the end, the study found that, compared to standard multimedia training, MPathic-VR students improved more and felt more positive about the experience. Their results were released in the April issue of Patient Education and Counseling.

While MPathic-VR isn't in any schools yet, Dr. Fred Kron, founder of the company who made the program, says they're starting to look at rolling out the software and want to continue Robin's story.

Everyone wants to be able to express empathy, but it can be hard, especially when delivering upsetting information in a high-stress and fast-paced environment. There's no perfect recipe for how to give bad news, but these kinds of tools might help people who find themselves doing so frequently to find their footing or even just hone that skill with compassion.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
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Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

Amazon

In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

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In the interview, Gorman explained how she dove into research to prepare her poem to fit the occasion, and then how that work was disrupted by the attack on the Capitol.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

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