Who We Are

Three collaborating organizations

The Pathfinder portal was developed by a collaboration of three leading healthcare organizations: Ariadne Labs; the Center to Advance Palliative Care, and VitalTalk. Our goal: to provide every clinician who cares for people with serious illness with established best practices in communication strategies—and to inspire better listening, more effective conversations, and better care for patients everywhere.

Each organization offers a different model for communication skills training. 

  • Ariadne Labs, headed by executive director Atul Gawande, launched the Serious Illness Care Program (SICP) in 2011 under the leadership of Dr. Susan Block, a pioneer in the field of palliative care. Now led by Erik Fromme, MD, SICP provides a systems-level approach to ensuring that patients receive the care they want and experience the best possible quality of life as they live with serious illness. The SICP approach centers on the idea that patients with serious illness have goals, and the best way to understand those goals is through meaningful conversations. The program has demonstrated improvements in the frequency, timing, and quality of conversations; reductions in rates of anxiety and depression; and high acceptability among patients and clinicians.
  • Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC) is a national organization dedicated to increasing the availability of quality palliative care services for people living with serious illness. Led by MacArthur Fellowship winner Diane Meier, MD, CAPC provides health care organizations with the tools, training, technical assistance, and metrics needed to support the successful implementation and integration of palliative care. Originally funded in 1999 as a National Program Office of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, CAPC has led to a tripling in the number of hospital palliative care teams in the U.S. between 2000 and the present. CAPC is a member-based organization open to all health care organizations.
  • VitalTalk is a nonprofit organization started by Drs. Anthony Back (University of Washington), Robert Arnold (University of Pittsburgh), and James Tulsky (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute). The VitalTalk mission is to offer a unique communication skills training system, geared to practicing clinicians caring for seriously ill patients and their families. Such training is critical to eliciting patient values and to discussing goals of care. The VitalTalk system enables clinicians to acquire expertise in new, more effective communication skills, and helps avoid common communication pitfalls.


  • Anthony Back, MD

    Dr. Anthony Back is a cofounder of VitalTalk, a non-profit healthcare organization created with Robert Arnold, MD and James Tulsky, MD to scale communication skills training for clinicians using a social entrepreneurship approach.

    He is a professor of medicine at the University of Washington, Division of Oncology, where he is codirector of the Cambia Palliative Care Center of Excellence. His research on patient-physician communication has been funded by the National Cancer Institute, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Arnold P Gold Foundation and many others. He was educated at Stanford University (AB) and Harvard Medical School (MD), and was a faculty scholar for the Project on death in America. His awards include the Pathfinder in Palliative Care Award from the American Cancer Society, the National Leadership Award from the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, and the Walther Cancer Foundation Palliative and Supportive Care in Oncology Endowed Award and Lecture.

  • Erik Fromme, MD, MCR

    Erik Fromme, MD, MCR, is director of the Serious Illness Care Program at Ariadne Labs where he oversees the research, growth, and spread of the program.

    Prior to joining Ariadne, Erik was the section chief and medical director for palliative care at Oregon Health & Science University, founding that institution's outpatient palliative care program and developing a research program in patient-reported outcomes, hospice and palliative care health service research, and Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST).

    Erik received his BA in psychology from the University of Virginia and MD from the University of Oklahoma. He completed residency in Internal Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University as well as a masters in clinical research degree and an Interprofessional fellowship in ethics. He also completed fellowships in general internal medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital and in palliative care at Massachusetts General Hospital and was a Schwartz Fellow in Pastoral Care.

  • Diane E. Meier, MD, FACP

    Diane E. Meier, MD, FACP, is director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC). Under her leadership, the number of palliative care programs in U.S. hospitals has more than tripled in the last 18 years.

    Diane is the author of numerous books and peer-reviewed journal articles. She is also the recipient of many awards, including the 2008 MacArthur Fellowship, a $500,000, no-strings-attached "genius grant" for individuals who have shown exceptional creativity in their work and the promise to do more. In 2010, she was named one of 20 People Who Make Healthcare Better in the U.S. by HealthLeaders Media and, that same year, received an honorary doctorate of science from Oberlin College.

    In 2012, she was awarded American Cancer Society’s Medal of Honor for Cancer Control. Dr. Meier served as one of Columbia University’s Health and Aging Policy Fellows in Washington, DC (2009–10), working on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and at the Department of Health and Human Services. In 2017 she received the National Academy of Medicine Gustav O. Lienhard Award for Advancement of Health Care. Diane received her BA from Oberlin College and her MD from Northwestern University Medical School.


  • Robert Arnold, MD

    Leo H. Criep Chair in Patient Care

    Professor of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine

    Chief, Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

    Assistant Director for Education, University of Pittsburgh Center for Bioethics and Health Law

    Assistant Medical Director of Palliative Care for the Institute for Quality Improvement at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

    Cofounder, Vital Talk

  • Atul Gawande, MD, MPH

    Executive Director, Ariadne Labs

    Surgeon, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

    Professor, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

    Staff Writer, The New Yorker

  • James Tulsky, MD

    Chair, Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

    Chief, Division of Palliative Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital

    Codirector, Harvard Medical School Center for Palliative Care

    Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

    Cofounder, Vital Talk

The Communication Skills Pathfinder portal, and our unique collaboration, has been made possible through generous funding by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.