Little data exist for the effectiveness of communication skills teaching for medical students in non-English speaking countries. We conducted a non-randomized controlled study to examine if a short intensive seminar for Japanese medical students had any impact on communication skills with patients.
Throughout the academic year 2001–2002, a total of 105 fifth-year students (18 groups of 5 to 7 students) participated, one group at a time, in a two-day, small group seminar on medical interviewing. Half way through the year, a five-station objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) was conducted for all fifth-year students. We videotaped all the students' interaction with a standardized patient in one OSCE station that was focused on communication skills. Two independent observers rated the videotapes of 50 students who had attended the seminar and 47 who had not. Sixteen core communication skills were measured. Disagreements between raters were resolved by a third observer's rating.
There was a statistically significant difference in proportions of students who were judged as 'acceptable' in one particular skill related to understanding patient's perspectives: asking how the illness or problems affected the patient's life, (53% in the experimental group and 30% in the control group, p = .02). No differences were observed in the other 15 core communication skills, although there was a trend for improvement in the skill for asking the patient's ideas about the illness or problems (60% vs. 40%, p = .054) and one of the relationship building skills; being attentive and empathic nonverbally (87% vs. 72%, p = .064).
The results of this study suggest that a short, intensive small group seminar for Japanese medical students may have had a short-term impact on specific communication skills, pertaining to understanding patient's perspectives.