Grants & Research Committee – Research Annotation, October 2012

By Lou Clark

Happy fall ASPE Members! The offering this month looks at assessing communication in OSCEs, specifically at eliminating “station-specific checklists” and the potential value and cost in providing learners with narrative feedback instead. The corresponding author of this month’s article is with the Department of General Practice at the Catholic University Leuven in Belgium.

Optimizing the utility of communication OSCEs: Omit station-specific checklists and provide students with narrative feedback, by Marc Van Nuland, Wim Van den Noortgate, Cees van der Vleuten & Jo Goedhuys.


Author(s):        Van Nuland, M., Van den Noortgate, W., van der Vleuten, C., & Goeghuys, J.

Year:                2012

Article:            Optimizing the utility of communication OSCEs: Omit station-specific checklists and provide students with narrative feedback.

Publication:      Patient Education and Counseling 88 (2012), 106-112.


Annotation:     Authors introduce the study by discussing the ubiquitous use of communication skills training in undergraduate medical education and the need for this training to be assessed formally. While numerous other studies have assessed communication skills in OSCE settings, authors maintain that their study addresses a current gap in the scholarly literature by posing the research question of whether case-specific scales are more effective than a generic communication scale used to assess all cases in an OSCE. To address this research question, researchers implemented the Common Ground communication skills assessment instrument based on the doctor-patient communication elements identified in the Toronto and Kalamazoo Consensus Statements. The Common Ground is a global rating scale with seven different components including: rapport building, agenda setting, information management, active listening, addressing feelings and reaching common ground. In addition to comparing the Common Ground instrument with station-specific checklists, researchers also measured the impact of narrative feedback given to students by faculty and standardized patients. In addition, researchers measured the variables of feasibility, cost, acceptability and educational impact along with the more traditionally measured variables of reliability and validity. Sixty three fourth year medical students at the University of Leuven participated in the communication OSCE. Data was gathered through the generic and station-specific checklists and 55 students completed a post-assessment survey. The primary finding of the study is that the use of station-specific checklists was repetitive if a generic instrument such as the Common Ground scale is used. In addition, authors evidence that eliminating use of the station-specific scales would save the institution 6.5% on total costs for running the OSCE. The surveys demonstrated students’ appreciation of the narrative feedback though the study indicated the narrative feedback increased the cost of the OSCE by 5%. Ultimately, authors acknowledge a weakness of the study is that the educational effectiveness of feedback was offered a limited assessment through only two survey questions and that this topic could be explored further in future studies.

I recommend this article to SP educators who are interested in cost-cutting measures in planning communication skills OSCEs and to those interested in exploring further the potential impacts of utilizing narrative feedback in OSCEs.

Annotated by:     Lou Clark, MA, MFA


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