Open Access Research article

Systematic development of a communication skills training course for physicians performing work disability assessments: from evidence to practice

H Jolanda van Rijssen13, Antonius JM Schellart13, Johannes R Anema13, Wout EL de Boer234 and Allard J van der Beek13*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public and Occupational Health, EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

2 At the time: TNO Quality of Life, Hoofddorp, The Netherlands

3 Research Center for Insurance Medicine, collaboration between AMC-UMCG-UWV-VUmc, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

4 Academy of Swiss Insurance Medicine, University Hospital, Basel, Switzerland

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BMC Medical Education 2011, 11:28  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-11-28

Published: 3 June 2011



Physicians require specific communication skills, because the face-to-face contact with their patients is an important source of information. Although physicians who perform work disability assessments attend some communication-related training courses during their professional education, no specialised and evidence-based communication skills training course is available for them. Therefore, the objectives of this study were: 1) to systematically develop a training course aimed at improving the communication skills of physicians during work disability assessment interviews with disability claimants, and 2) to plan an evaluation of the training course.


A physician-tailored communication skills training course was developed, according to the six steps of the Intervention Mapping protocol. Data were collected from questionnaire studies among physicians and claimants, a focus group study among physicians, a systematic review of the literature, and meetings with various experts. Determinants and performance objectives were formulated. A concept version of the training course was discussed with several experts before the final training course programme was established. The evaluation plan was developed by consulting experts, social insurance physicians, researchers, and policy-makers, and discussing with them the options for evaluation.


A two-day post-graduate communication skills training course was developed, aimed at improving professional communication during work disability assessment interviews. Special focus was on active teaching strategies, such as practising the skills in role-play. An adoption and implementation plan was formulated, in which the infrastructure of the educational department of the institute that employs the physicians was utilised. Improvement in the skills and knowledge of the physicians who will participate in the training course will be evaluated in a randomised controlled trial.


The feasibility and practical relevance of the communication skills training course that was developed seem promising. Such a course may be relevant for physicians in many countries who perform work disability assessments. The development of the first training course of this type represents an important advancement in this field.