Background: Effective communication is increasingly recognised as a core clinical skill. However, there is evidence that health and social care professionals still lack basic communication skills.
Purpose: To assess the effectiveness of different communication skills training courses for health professionals in cancer care.
Methods: We searched six computerised databases and augmented this with a follow-up of references and grey (unpublished) literature. We included all studies evaluating communication training and assessed methodological quality according to the standard grading system of the Clinical Outcomes Group. Data on author, year, setting, objectives, study design and results were extracted and compared in tabular format.
Results: A total of 47 studies potentially assessing communication training in the area of cancer care were identified. Sixteen papers were included describing 13 interventions. Four were randomised controlled trials (RCTs) (grade I), with samples ranging from 72 to 233 subjects. The others were all grade III. Eleven interventions trained health professionals, two trained medical students. The outcomes measured included communication skills as assessed on audio or video, professionals' self-report and patient assessment. All the interventions demonstrated modest improvements (effect sizes ranged 0.15-2) and one found deterioration in the outcomes measured.
Conclusion: Communication training improves basic communication skills. Positive attitudes and beliefs are needed to maintain skills over time in clinical practice and to effectively handle emotional situations.