Medical Education 2010: 44: 347–357
Objectives There are recognised difficulties in teaching and assessing intimate examination skills that relate to the sensitive nature of the various examinations and the anxiety faced by novice learners. This systematic review provides a summary of the evidence for the involvement of real patients (RPs) and simulated patients (SPs) in the training of health care professionals in intimate examination skills.
Methods For the review, ‘intimate examinations’ included pelvic, breast, testicular and rectal examinations. Major databases were searched from the start of the database to December 2008. The synthesis of findings is integrated by narrative structured to address the main research questions, which sought to establish: the objectives of programmes involving RPs and SPs as teachers of intimate examination skills; reasons why SPs have been involved in this training; the evidence for the effectiveness of such training programmes; the evidence for measures of anxiety in students learning how to perform intimate examinations; how well issues of sexuality are addressed in the literature; any reported negative effects of involvement in teaching on the patients, and suggestions for practical strategies for involving patients in the teaching of intimate examination skills.
Results A total of 65 articles were included in the review. Involving patients in teaching intimate examination skills offers advantages over traditional methods of teaching. Objective evidence for the effectiveness of this method is demonstrated through improved clinical performance, reduced anxiety and positive evaluation of programmes. Practical strategies for implementing such programmes are also reported.
Conclusions There is evidence of a short-term positive impact of patient involvement in the teaching and assessment of intimate examination skills; however, evidence of longer-term impact is still limited. The influences of sexuality and anxiety related to such examinations are explored to some extent, but the psychological impact on learners and patients is not well addressed.