Using patients as educators for communication skills: Exploring dental students' and patients' views.
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TITLE: A qualitative study to explore the issues for patients and students when giving feedback on the communication of dental students. OBJECTIVES: The Department of Health and National Institute for Health Research are committed to involving patients in improving clinical education, research and service delivery. Yet, there is a limited body of evidence on the perceptions of patients when asked to be involved in this way, and specifically when asked to provide feedback on the communication skills of dental students. This study seeks to address this gap and heighten the understanding of the issues faced by patients when asked to be involved in clinical education. METHODS: Data were collected using focus groups with dental students (n=10) and patients (n=8) being treated by these students. Both groups were asked about their thoughts, feelings and beliefs about patients being asked to provide feedback on the communication skills of dental students. Data analysis involved inductive thematic analysis of transcribed audio recordings. RESULTS: Four themes emerged from the data: "legitimacy," "co-educators," "maintaining the equilibrium of the patient-student relationship" and the "timing of patient feedback." Support for involving patients in giving feedback on students' communication skills was established, with patients considering they were best placed to comment on the communication skills of dental students. Patients and students do not want to provide feedback alone and want support to assist them, especially if feedback was negative. Issues of anonymity, confidentiality and ownership of the feedback process were worrisome, and the positioning of patient feedback in the programme was seen as critical. CONCLUSIONS: Patients and students are willing to engage in patient feedback on students' communication skills, and with support and training, the concerns around this are not insurmountable and the benefits could potentially profit both groups. These findings have resonance with other healthcare educators when using patients as educators in the development of communication skills.
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