Objective: To investigate whether the observational skills of doctors and nurses can be improved by arts-based observational skills training.
Methods: We carried out a cluster design, controlled trial involving 42 general practitioners and 26 primary care nurses in 12 primary care practices in London. Six practices were allocated to the intervention arm and 6 to the control arm. The intervention group received 90 minutes of arts-based observational skills training. The control group received practical training in the management of psoriasis. Before and after this, control and intervention participants were asked to describe 3 dermatological photographs. Descriptions were scored blindly against a predetermined marking key. Participants completed a questionnaire about the intervention, and about their own confidence in diagnosing and referring suspicious pigmented skin lesions.
Results: Post-intervention scores were significantly higher in the intervention group compared with the control group (P < 0.001). The majority of participants judged the intervention relevant, enjoyable and valuable. A majority lacked confidence in their dermatological knowledge and skills.
Discussion: This study provides statistically significant evidence that arts-based observational skills training can improve the observational skills of doctors and nurses. It is important not to overstate the clinical significance of these findings, and to recognise that observational skills are just one of many complex and subtle factors affecting the quality of the clinical process. Further research is needed to assess the existence, nature and clinical significance of longer-term benefits, and to identify differences between professional groups.