Web-Based Telehealth Training Platform Improving Medical Students’ Nonverbal Communication Skills -
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Web-Based Telehealth Training Platform Improving Medical Students’ Nonverbal Communication Skills

Members of a research team representing universities in Australia and the United States believe it is important for medical students to develop clinical communication skills in the interests of patient health outcomes – found the EQClinic telehealth communication skills training platform it developed was able to improve medical students’ awareness of their nonverbal communication.

EQClinic provides automated nonverbal behavior feedback for medical students to help them improve their nonverbal communication skills using an online environment to conduct video consultations with simulated patients. The program uses volunteer simulated patients (SPs) so students can practice developing a great bedside manner.

The SP is provided with a patient scenario complete with all the information needed to share with the student. The student\’s job is to speak with the SP and gain a picture of the medical history and any underlying issue.

The goal of the study was to evaluate the effectiveness of EQClinic in improving the clinical communication skills of medical students. The team conducted a 2-group randomized crossover trial between February and June 2016. Participants were second-year medical students enrolled in a clinical communication skills course at an Australian university. The 268 students were randomly allocated to complete online EQClinic training during weeks 1–5 (group A) or to complete EQClinic training during weeks 8–11 (group B).

EQClinic delivered an automated visual presentation of students’ nonverbal behavior coupled with human feedback from a standardized patient (SP). All students were offered two opportunities to complete face-to-face consultations with SPs. The two face-to-face consultations were conducted in weeks 6–7 and 12–13 for both groups, and were rated by tutors who were blinded to group allocation. Student-Patient Observed Communication Assessment (SOCA) was collected by blinded assessors (n=28) at 2 time points and also by an SP (n=83). Tutor-rated clinical communications skill in face-to-face consultations was the primary outcome and was assessed with the SOCA.

The team used t tests to examine the students’ performance during face-to-face consultations pre- and postexposure to EQClinic. Team members found the SOCA communication skills measures from the first face-to-face consultation were significantly higher for students in group A who had completed EQClinic training and reviewed the nonverbal behavior feedback, compared with group B, who had completed only the course curriculum components. And, at the second face-to-face assessment, the group that completed a teleconsultation between the two face-to-face consultations (group B) showed improved communication skills, and the one that had teleconsultations before the first face-to-face consultation (group A) did not show improvement.

In the end, the team says EQClinic is a useful tool for medical students’ training that can be applied to university settings to improve students’ clinical communication skills development. The research team members represent the University of Sydney’s School of Electrical and Information Engineering and Sydney Medical School, the University of California – Davis’ Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and the University of New South Wales School of Medicine.

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