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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Training of patient and consumer representatives in the basic competencies of evidence-based medicine: a feasibility study

Bettina Berger, Anke Steckelberg, Gabriele Meyer, Jürgen Kasper and Ingrid Mühlhauser*

Author Affiliations

Unit of Health Sciences and Education, University of Hamburg, Martin-Luther-King Platz 6, 20146 Hamburg, Germany

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BMC Medical Education 2010, 10:16  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-10-16

Published: 11 February 2010



Evidence-based medicine (EBM) has become standard approach in medicine. Patients and health authorities increasingly claim active patient roles in decision making. Education to cope with these roles might be useful. We investigated the feasibility, acceptability and possible impact of EBM training courses for patient and consumer representatives.


We designed a generic one-week EBM course based on previous experience with EBM courses for non-medical health professionals. A course specific competence test has been developed and validated to measure EBM skills. Formative and summative evaluation of the course comprised: 1) EBM skills; 2) individual learning goals; 3) self-reported implementation after six months using semi-structured interviews; 4) group-based feedback by content analysis. EBM skills' achievement was compared to results gathered by a group of undergraduate University students of Health Sciences and Education who had attended a comparable EBM seminar.


Fourteen EBM courses were conducted including 161 participants without previous EBM training (n = 54 self-help group representatives, n = 64 professional counsellors, n = 36 patient advocates, n = 7 others); 71% had a higher education degree; all but five finished the course. Most participants stated personal learning goals explicitly related to practicing EBM such as acquisition of critical appraisal skills (n = 130) or research competencies (n = 67). They rated the respective relevance of the course on average with 80% (SD 4) on a visual analogue scale ranging from 0 to 100%.

Participants passed the competence test with a mean score of 14.7 (SD 3.0, n = 123) out of 19.5 points. The comparison group of students achieved a mean score of 14.4 (SD 3.3, n = 43). Group-based feedback revealed increases of self confidence, empowerment through EBM methodology and statistical literacy, and acquisition of new concepts of patient information and counselling. Implementation of EBM skills was reported by 84 of the 129 (65%) participants available for follow-up interviews. Barriers included lack of further support, limited possibilities to exchange experiences, and feeling discouraged by negative reactions of health professionals.


Training in basic EBM competencies for selected patient and consumer representatives is feasible and accepted and may affect counselling and advocacy activities. Implementation of EBM skills needs support beyond the training course.