Communication skill of general practitioners: any room for improvement? How much can it be improved?

C S Y Chan, Y T Wun, A Cheung, J A Dickinson, K W Chan, H C Lee, Y M Yung
Medical Education 2003, 37 (6): 514-26

OBJECTIVE: To measure any changes in the communication skills of primary care physicians before and after a part-time Diploma course in Family Medicine.

SUBJECTS: 79 Hong Kong Chinese doctors (46 of whom were local graduates, with an average of 7 years in general practice).

METHODS: Over the 10-month course in 2000-01, participants had 11 2.5-hour lecture/demonstrations in communication skills, 2 sessions of role play practice in groups of 20, self-analysis of a videotaped interview and skills evaluation. A before-after design measured scores in videotaped simulated patient interviews (rated by a research assistant using a structured observation guide, after standardisation by a psychologist) and scores in Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCE) (rated by experienced family physician examiners with standardised checklists).

RESULTS: There were wide variations in baseline skills, with scores ranging between 24-78 (out of 100) for video and 18-68 for OSCE, which were related to prior training and inversely associated with years after graduation. Significant improvements occurred in both video (from 53 to 61) and OSCE (from 46 to 56) post-course (P < 0.001). The group in the lowest quartile improved from 36 to 54 for video and from 29 to 48 for OSCE, while those in the second lowest quartile improved from 50 to 61 for video and from 44 to 56 for OSCE (F = 12.2, P < 0.001). Doctors who graduated more than 20 years ago made as much improvement as more recent graduates.

CONCLUSIONS: Communication skills can be effectively taught to, and improved among experienced Chinese doctors by a combination of large-class teaching and medium-sized group practice with feedback, and without intensive individual supervision.

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