Open Access Research article

Observed communication skills: how do they relate to the consultation content? A nation-wide study of graduate medical students seeing a standardized patient for a first-time consultation in a general practice setting

Tore Gude1*, Per Vaglum1, Tor Anvik2, Anders Baerheim3, Hilde Eide5, Ole B Fasmer3, Peter Graugaard1, Hilde Grimstad4, Per Hjortdahl1, Are Holen4, Tone Nordoy2, Helge Skirbekk1 and Arnstein Finset1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Behavioral Sciences in Medicine and Institute of General Practice and Community Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo, Norway

2 Institute of Community Medicine and Institute of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Tromsø, Norway

3 Department of Public Health and Primary Health Care and Institute of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Bergen, Norway

4 Department of Public Health and General Practice, Department of Neuroscience, Faculty of Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway

5 Faculty of Nursing, Oslo University College, Norway

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BMC Medical Education 2007, 7:43  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-7-43

Published: 8 November 2007



In this study, we wanted to investigate the relationship between background variables, communication skills, and the bio-psychosocial content of a medical consultation in a general practice setting with a standardized patient.


Final-year medical school students (N = 111) carried out a consultation with an actor playing the role of a patient with a specific somatic complaint, psychosocial stressors, and concerns about cancer. Based on videotapes, communication skills and consultation content were scored separately.


The mean level of overall communication skills had a significant impact upon the counts of psychosocial issues, the patient's concerns about cancer, and the information and planning parts of the consultation content being addressed. Gender and age had no influence upon the relationship between communication skills and consultation content.


Communication skills seem to be important for final-year students' competence in addressing sensitive psychosocial issues and patients' concerns as well as informing and planning with patients being representative for a fairly complex case in general practice. This result should be considered in the design and incorporation of communication skills training as part of the curriculum of medical schools.