An educational intervention to facilitate appropriate subspecialty referrals: a study assessing resident communication skills

Document Type


Publication Date



Medical Education

Journal Title

BMC medical education

MeSH Headings

Adolescent; Child; Clinical Competence; Communication; Curriculum; Humans; Internship and Residency; Referral and Consultation; Syncope


BACKGROUND: Our goal was to improve pediatric residents' advanced communication skills in the setting of referral to address the entrustable professional activity of subspecialty referral identified by the American Board of Pediatrics. To accomplish this aim, we created a referral and consultation curriculum to teach and assess core communication skills in subspecialty referral involving an adolescent with syncope, an anxiety-provoking symptom that is rarely associated with serious pathology. METHODS: We utilized blended multimodal educational interventions to improve resident communication skills in referral of patients. Trainees participated in 1) an interactive online module on syncope focusing on "red-flag" symptoms that would warrant a subspecialty cardiology referral and 2) a 4-h intervention with Standardized Parents (SPs), focusing on the case-based application of communication skills. Communication skills were assessed by two pre- and post- Objective Structured Clinical Examination encounters of patients with syncope, with an SP evaluation using a 20-item checklist. Analysis was performed with Sign test and McNemar's test. Trainees provided feedback on a Critical Incident Questionnaire, which was analyzed qualitatively. RESULTS: Sixty-four residents participated. There was an overall improvement in communication skills based on SP scores (82.7 ± 10.9% to 91.7 ± 5.0%, p < 0.001), and 13/20 items demonstrated significant improvement post-intervention. Residents' improved performance enabled them to address patient/family emotions, explain referral logistics, and clarify concerns to agree on a plan. CONCLUSIONS: By participating in this curriculum, residents' communication skills improved immediately post-intervention. Further research is needed to assess if this intervention improves patient care by providing residents with enduring skills to judiciously manage the referral process.

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