The video-based test of communication skills: description, development, and preliminary findings

UMMS Affiliation

Meyers Primary Care Institute; Department of Family Medicine and Community Health

Publication Date


Document Type



*Communication; Computer-Assisted Instruction; Humans; Massachusetts; *Physician-Patient Relations; Professional Competence; *Program Development; *Program Evaluation; *Video Recording


Health Services Research | Medical Education | Primary Care


BACKGROUND: The importance of assessing physician-patient communication skills is widely recognized, but assessment methods are limited. Objective structured clinical examinations are time-consuming and resource intensive. For practicing physicians, patient surveys may be useful, but these also require substantial resources. Clearly, it would be advantageous to develop alternative or supplemental methods for assessing communication skills of medical students, residents, and physicians.

DESCRIPTION: The Video-based Test of Communication Skills (VTCS) is an innovative, computer-administered test, consisting of 20 very short video vignettes. In each vignette, a patient makes a statement or asks a question. The examinee responds verbally, as if it was a real encounter and he or she were the physician. Responses are recorded for later scoring. Test administration takes approximately 1 h.

EVALUATION: Generalizability studies were conducted, and scores for two groups of physicians predicted to differ in their communication skills were compared. Preliminary results are encouraging; the estimated g coefficient for the communication score for 20-vignette test (scored by five raters) is 0.79; g for the personal/affective score under the same conditions is 0.62. Differences between physicians were in the predicted direction, with physicians considered "at risk" for communication difficulties scoring lower than those not so identified.

CONCLUSIONS: The VTCS is a short, portable test of communication skills. Results reported here suggest that scores reflect differences in skill levels and are generalizable. However, these findings are based on very small sample sizes and must be considered preliminary. Additional work is required before it will be possible to argue confidently that this test in particular, and this approach to testing communication skills in general, is valuable and likely to make a substantial contribution to assessment in medical education.

DOI of Published Version



Teach Learn Med. 2007 Spring;19(2):162-7. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Teaching and learning in medicine

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID