Differential growth in doctor–patient communications skills

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Although doctor–patient communication is considered a core competency for medical doctors, the effect of training has not been unequivocally established. Moreover, knowledge about the variance in the growth of different skills and whether certain patterns in growth can be detected could help us to develop more efficient programmes. We therefore investigated the growth in general practitioner (GP) trainees' doctor–patient communication skills in their first year and whether the growth was different for distinct categories of skills.


Seventy-one first-year GP trainees were invited to participate in a study aimed at measuring their consultation skills at the beginning (baseline) and at the end of their first year (follow-up). Consultation skills were assessed with the MAAS–Global rating list for consultation skills.


Data on 29 general practitioner trainees were collected. MAAS–Global scores showed a significant growth on all items but one. Patient-oriented skills showed significantly more growth than task-oriented skills. Empathy as a separate skill seems to be mastered predominantly before the start of training.


Three patterns in the growth in skills were distinguished: (i) low baseline, relatively high follow-up, (ii) moderate baseline, moderate growth and (iii) high baseline, hardly any growth. Patient-oriented skills follow either pattern (i) or (iii), whereas task-oriented skills follow pattern (ii). These findings may help to define where the focus should lie in the training of doctor–patient communication skills.

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