The effectiveness of using standardized patients to improve community physician skills in mammography counseling and clinical breast exam

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology ; Department of Family Medicine & Community Health

Publication Date


Document Type



Breast Neoplasms; Clinical Competence; Counseling; Education, Medical, Continuing; Family Practice; Female; Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice; Humans; Male; *Mammography; Mass Screening; *Palpation; *Patient Simulation; Program Evaluation


Life Sciences | Medicine and Health Sciences | Women's Studies


BACKGROUND: Traditional didactic continuing education is relatively ineffective in improving physicians' clinical skills. We hypothesized that a centralized course including small group workshops utilizing standardized patients could improve clinical skills for a reasonable cost.

METHODS: We designed a 5-h course aimed at improving physicians' counseling skills (re: screening mammography) and clinical breast exam (CBE) skills. The course included lectures, demonstrations, and small group skills sessions utilizing standardized patients and was offered to 156 typical community-based primary care physicians. Pre- and postcourse evaluation included in-office assessments of physician CBE and counseling performance by standardized patients and a written test of knowledge and attitudes.

RESULTS: A total of 54.5% of eligible physicians participated. They improved modestly in only one of three areas of counseling skills measured (providing counseling appropriate to the patient's readiness to accept mammography, P = 0.01). The overall CBE score increased substantially from 24.8 to 34.7 (P < 0.0001). Knowledge in all areas measured and confidence in counseling patients also increased. The basic course cost $202 per physician trained.

CONCLUSIONS: Most community-based primary care physicians may find small group training and in-office evaluation involving standardized patients acceptable. Such training may be more effective in improving physical exam skills than complex communication skills.

DOI of Published Version



Prev Med. 1999 Oct;29(4):241-8. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Preventive medicine

Related Resources

Link to article in PubMed

PubMed ID