UMMS Affiliation

Department of Quantitative Health Sciences, Outcomes Measurement Science

Publication Date


Document Type



Health Communication | Health Services Research | Medical Education | Oncology


BACKGROUND: Communication between health care provider and patients in oncology presents challenges. Communication skills training have been frequently developed to address those. Given the complexity of communication training, the choice of outcomes and outcome measures to assess its effectiveness is important. The aim of this paper is to 1) perform a systematic review on outcomes and outcome measures used in evaluations of communication training, 2) discuss specific challenges and 3) provide recommendations for the selection of outcomes in future studies.

METHODS: To identify studies and reviews reporting on the evaluation of communication training for health care professionals in oncology, we searched seven databases (Ovid MEDLINE, CENTRAL, CINAHL, EMBASE, PsychINFO, PsychARTICLES and Web of Science). We extracted outcomes assessed and the respective assessment methods. We held a two-day workshop with experts (n = 16) in communication theory, development and evaluation of generic or cancer-specific communication training and/or outcome measure development to identify and address challenges in the evaluation of communication training in oncology. After the workshop, participants contributed to the development of recommendations addressing those challenges.

RESULTS: Out of 2181 references, we included 96 publications (33 RCTs, 2 RCT protocols, 4 controlled trials, 36 uncontrolled studies, 21 reviews) in the review. Most frequently used outcomes were participants' training evaluation, their communication confidence, observed communication skills and patients' overall satisfaction and anxiety. Outcomes were assessed using questionnaires for participants (57.3%), patients (36.0%) and observations of real (34.7%) and simulated (30.7%) patient encounters. Outcomes and outcome measures varied widely across studies. Experts agreed that outcomes need to be precisely defined and linked with explicit learning objectives of the training. Furthermore, outcomes should be assessed as broadly as possible on different levels (health care professional, patient and interaction level).

CONCLUSIONS: Measuring the effects of training programmes aimed at improving health care professionals' communication skills presents considerable challenges. Outcomes as well as outcome measures differ widely across studies. We recommended to link outcome assessment to specific learning objectives and to assess outcomes as broadly as possible.


Communication training, Evaluation, Oncology, Outcome

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© The Author(s). 2019 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

DOI of Published Version



BMC Cancer. 2019 Aug 14;19(1):808. doi: 10.1186/s12885-019-6022-5. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

BMC cancer

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.