BEME Guide No. 2: Teaching and learning communication skills in medicine-a review with quality grading of articles

Med Teach. 1999;21(6):563-70. doi: 10.1080/01421599978979.


A literature search for articles concerning communication skills teaching and learning in medicine was done.The search yielded 180 pertinent articles, which were quality graded into the three categories of high, medium and low quality, using established criteria. Only those of high and medium quality were used for the review, which thus is based on 31 randomized studies, 38 open effect studies and 14 descriptive studies. Communication skills can be taught in courses, are learnt, but are easily forgotten if not maintained by practice.The most effective point in time to learn these at medical school is probably during the clinical clerkships, but there is no study that has specifically addressed this question.After a short period of training, doctors can be effective as teachers.The teaching method should be experiential as it has been shown conclusively that instructional methods do not give the desired results.The contents of communication skills courses should primarily be problem defining.All students should have communication skills training since those with the lowest pre-course scores gain the most from such courses. Men are slower learners of communication skills than women, which should be taken into account by course organizers. As there is only one really long-term follow up into the residency phase of communication skills training at medical school, those who have done randomized studies in the field should if possible carry out further follow-up studies.