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Keywords:

  • clinical trials;
  • communication skills;
  • communication skills training;
  • evaluation;
  • oncology;
  • transition to palliative care

Abstract

Objectives  Communication skills training (CST) has to be proven effective, and therefore reliable instruments to evaluate CST are required. Most instruments assessing medical consultations do not take individual aspects of CST into consideration. Such assessment tools should naturally also be closely associated with the communication skills taught to the participants. Thus, we developed a new instrument which evaluates the effects of specific CST.

Methods  Development: Based on a literature review, we developed a checklist with questions (‘items’) which assess the behaviour of a doctor in a special doctor–patient consultation (The COM-ON-Checklist, COM-ON = communication in oncology). First, we developed items for general communication skills that are a requirement of every doctor–patient consultation, and in addition to this, we developed items for specific situations which present a particular challenge for doctors in terms of communication skills, namely: the situation in which the doctor is required to discuss the shift from curative to palliative care, and the disclosure of information about clinical trials. For assessment, a 5-point rating scale with anchor points was used. Evaluation: Blinded raters were trained to use the COM-ON-Checklist. The intra-class correlation (ICC) was used to calculate the agreement between raters.

Results  The COM-ON-Checklist consists of two parts: the first part evaluates general communication skills; the second part evaluates content-specific aspects of the consultation. The ICC ranged from 0.5 to 0.8, which demonstrates moderate to very good results of inter-rater reliability.

Discussion  The COM-ON-Checklist can be used to evaluate specific CST. It is also a feedback source for clinicians because it assesses their personal communication skills in different settings. In conclusion, the COM-ON-Checklist provides a reliable, structured method for assessing communication skills in oncological settings.