Assessment of medical communication skills by computer: assessment method and student experiences

R L Hulsman, E D Mollema, A M Hoos, J C J M de Haes, J D Donnison-Speijer
Medical Education 2004, 38 (8): 813-24

BACKGROUND: A computer-assisted assessment (CAA) program for communication skills designated ACT was developed using the objective structured video examination (OSVE) format. This method features assessment of cognitive scripts underlying communication behaviour, a broad range of communication problems covered in 1 assessment, highly standardised assessment and rating procedures, and large group assessments without complex organisation.

SETTING: The Academic Medical Centre (AMC) at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Aims To describe the development of the AMC Communication Test (ACT); to describe our experiences with the examination and rating procedures; to present test score descriptives, and to present the students' opinions of ACT.

DESIGN: The ACT presents films on history taking, breaking bad news and shared decision making. Each film is accompanied by 3 types of short essay questions derived from our assessment model: "knows", "knows why/when" and "knows how". Evaluation questions about ACT were integrated into the assessment. Participants A total of 210 third year medical undergraduates were assessed. This study reports on the 110 (53%) students who completed all evaluation questions.

RESULTS: Marking 210 examinations took about 17 days. The test score matched a normal distribution and showed a good level of discrimination of the students. About 75% passed the examination. Some support for the validity of our assessment model was found in the students' differential performance on the 3 types of questions. The ACT was well received. Student evaluations confirmed our efforts to develop realistic films that related well to the communication training programme.

CONCLUSIONS: The ACT is a useful assessment method which complements interpersonal assessment methods for the evaluation of the medical communication skills of undergraduates.

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