The effectiveness of a computer-assisted instruction programme on communication skills of medical specialists in oncology

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BackgroundAlthough doctor–patient communication is important in health care, medical specialists are generally not well trained in communication skills. Conventional training programmes are generally time consuming and hard to fit into busy working schedules of medical specialists. A computer-assisted instruction (CAI) programme was developed – `Interact-Cancer' – which is a time-efficient learning method and easily accessible at the workplace.ObjectiveTo investigate the effect of the CAI training, `Interact-Cancer', on the communication behaviour of medical specialists, and on satisfaction of patients about their physician interaction.DesignConsultations of medical specialists with cancer outpatients were videotaped at 4 specific stages, 2 before and 2 after Interact-Cancer, with intervals of 4 weeks.Patients/participantsParticipants were 21 medical specialists, mainly internists, working in 7 hospitals, and 385 cancer outpatients.MethodsCommunication behaviour was assessed on 23 observation categories derived from the course content. Frequencies were rated as well as judgements about the quality of the performance of each target skill. Satisfaction was measured by the Medical Interview Satisfaction Scale. Data were analyzed by means of multilevel statistical methods.ResultsThe behavioural assessment showed course effects on ratings of the physicians' quality of performance. No course effects were found on the frequencies of physicians' behaviours and on the patient satisfaction ratings.ConclusionsCAI is a promising method to supply medical specialists with postgraduate training of communication skills. The application of judgement ratings of communication behaviour proved to be valuable to evaluate course effects in real-life patient encounters.

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