Ellen Smets conducts research into the communication between patients and care providers, particularly in medical specialist care. Developments in healthcare, such as cost control, a focus on errors, increased patient autonomy and accessibility of medical information, have led to increased social interest in doctor-patient communication. Smets's research group studies the processes that promote or obstruct the exchange of information between doctors and their patients. In this way, she explores how the exchange of information arises from and/or contributes to patient participation, trust in the doctor, decision-making and quality of life. A particular focus is the provision of information in the context of oncology and genetics.
Knowledge about the mechanisms linking communicative behaviour and positive outcomes is still limited. By continually registering the psychophysiological reactions of patients and/or their care providers during interactions, both face-to-face and virtual, there is a better possibility of revealing these mechanisms than through the customary formats of self-reporting and/or behaviour observation. The goal for the coming years is to develop expertise in the use of psychophysiological measurements as part of communication research.
An important incentive for and benefit of this line of research is that the resulting knowledge can be used towards the education and training of both medical students and medical professionals.
Smets has worked at the AMC-UvA since 1992, where she has been the principal investigator for Medical Communication research since 2007. Smets is vice-chair of the Association for Researchers in Psychology and Health (ARPH), the Dutch representative for the European Association for Communication in Healthcare (EACH) and sits on the committee for Psychosocial Research of the Dutch Cancer Society's Scientific Council. Results of her research have been published in Patient Education and Counseling, American Journal of Medical Genetics and Annals of Oncology, amongst others.