Background: Workplace-based assessments were designed to facilitate observation and structure feedback on the performance of trainees in real-time clinical settings and scenarios. Research in workplace-based assessments has primarily centred on understanding psychometric qualities and performance improvement impacts of trainees generally. An area that is far less understood is the use of workplace-based assessments for trainees who may not be performing at expected or desired standards, referred to within the literature as trainees 'in difficulty' or 'underperforming'. In healthcare systems that increasingly depend on service provided by junior doctors, early detection (and remediation) of poor performance is essential. However, barriers to successful implementation of workplace-based assessments (WBAs) in this context include a misunderstanding of the use and purpose of these formative assessment tools. This review aims to explore the impact - or effectiveness - of workplace-based assessment on the identification of poor performance and to determine those conditions that support and enable detection, i.e. whether by routine or targeted use where poor performance is suspected. The review also aims to explore what effect (if any) the use of WBA may have on remediation or on changing clinical practice. The personal impact of the detection of poor performance on trainees and/or trainers may also be explored.
Methods/design: Using BEME (Best Evidence in Medical Education) Collaboration review guidelines, nine databases will be searched for English-language records. Studies examining interventions for workplace-based assessment either routinely or in relation to poor performance will be included. Independent agreement (kappa .80) will be achieved using a randomly selected set of records prior to commencement of screening and data extraction using a BEME coding sheet modified as applicable (Buckley et al., Med Teach 31:282-98, 2009) as this has been used in previous WBA systematic reviews (Miller and Archer, BMJ doi:10.1136/bmj.c5064, 2010) allowing for more rigorous comparisons with the published literature. Educational outcomes will be evaluated using Kirkpatrick's framework of educational outcomes using Barr's adaptations (Barr et al., Evaluations of interprofessional education; a United Kingdom review of health and social care, 2000) for medical education research.
Discussion: Our study will contribute to an ongoing international debate regarding the applicability of workplace-based assessments as a meaningful formative assessment approach within the context of postgraduate medical education.
Systematic review registration: The review has been registered by the BEME Collaboration www.bemecollaboration.org .