JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Understanding the impact of simulated patients on health care learners' communication skills: a systematic review

Jessica Kaplonyi, Kelly-Ann Bowles, Debra Nestel, Debra Kiegaldie, Stephen Maloney, Terry Haines, Cylie Williams
Medical Education 2017, 51 (12): 1209-1219
28833360

CONTEXT: Effective communication skills are at the core of good health care. Simulated patients (SPs) are increasingly engaged as an interactive means of teaching, applying and practising communication skills with immediate feedback. There is a large body of research into the use of manikin-based simulation but a gap exists in the body of research on the effectiveness of SP-based education to teach communication skills that impact patient outcomes. The aim of this systematic review was to critically analyse the existing research, investigating whether SP-based communication skills training improves learner-patient communication, how communication skill improvement is measured, and who measures these improvements.

METHODS: The databases Medline, ProQuest (Health & Medical Complete, Nursing and Allied Health Source) and CINAHL (EBSCOhost) Education Resources Information Centre (ERIC) were searched for articles that investigated the effects of SP-based education on the communication skills of medical, nursing and allied health learners.

RESULTS: There were 60 studies included in the review. Only two studies reported direct patient outcomes, one reporting some negative impact, and no studies included an economic analysis. Many studies reported statistically significant third-party ratings of improved communication effectiveness following SP-based education; however, studies were unable to be pooled for meta-analysis because of the outcome collection methods. There were a small number of studies comparing SP with no training at all and there were no differences between communication skills, contradicting the results from studies reporting benefits. Of the 60 studies included for analysis, 54 (90%) met the minimum quality score of 7/11, with four articles (7%) scoring 11/11.

CONCLUSION: SP-based education is widely accepted as a valuable and effective means of teaching communication skills but there is limited evidence of how this translates to patient outcomes and no indication of economic benefit for this type of training over another method.

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