Methodological quality of teaching communication skills to undergraduate medical students: A mapping review

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Sanson-Fisher, R
Hobden, B
Waller, A
Dodd, N
Boyd, L
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Background: Patient-clinician communication training is a core component of the undergraduate medical program. As with all areas of medicine, the best available evidence for teaching these skills should be incorporated into training programs. Examining the volume, type and design-quality of publications in this field can help to determine whether research is following a natural scientific progression to inform interactional skills training. This study aimed to review: (i) whether the proportion of publications examining teaching interactional skills to undergraduate medical students by study type, across three time-periods (2007-2008, 2011-2012, 2015-2016), changed over time (i.e. measurement, descriptive or interventions studies); and (ii) the proportion of intervention studies meeting Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care (EPOC) research design criteria. Methods: Medline, PubMed, PsycInfo and the Cochrane Database were searched for studies published in English from 2007 to 2016. Title and abstract reviews were performed for the included years. Articles were examined against the inclusion/exclusion criteria and those included were coded into descriptive, measurement or intervention categories. Results: A total of 243 relevant publications were identified. Fifty-two were published from 2007 to 2008, 75 from 2011 to 2012 and 116 from 2015 to 2016. Most identified studies were descriptive (63%), followed by measurement studies (22%) and intervention studies (15%). The proportion of descriptive studies increased significantly over time. However, the proportion of intervention studies did not change and the proportion of measures studies significantly decreased. Of the 37 intervention studies identified within the three time-periods, only 16 (43%) met EPOC study design criteria. Conclusions: The largest proportion of identified studies were descriptive, however, descriptive research is not sufficient to ensure communication skills training can effectively improve interactions between clinicians and patients. A more rigorous approach to research in this area is needed to inform education strategies.

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BMC Medical Education

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© The Author(s). 2018. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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Curriculum and pedagogy

Communication skills

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Sanson-Fisher, R; Hobden, B; Waller, A; Dodd, N; Boyd, L, Methodological quality of teaching communication skills to undergraduate medical students: A mapping review, BMC Medical Education, 2018, 18 (1), pp. 151-1 - 151-7