Simulated Consultations: A sociolinguistic perspective.

Abstract

Background Assessment of consulting skills using simulated patients is widespread in medical education. Most research into such assessment is sited in a statistical paradigm that focuses on psychometric properties or replicability of such tests. Equally important, but less researched, is the question of how far consultations with simulated patients reflect real clinical encounters – for which sociolinguistics, defined as the study of language in its socio-cultural context, provides a helpful analytic lens. Discussion In this debate article, we draw on a detailed empirical study of assessed role-plays, involving sociolinguistic analysis of talk in OSCE interactions. We consider critically the evidence for the simulated consultation (a) as a proxy for the real; (b) as performance; (c) as a context for assessing talk; and (d) as potentially disadvantaging candidates trained overseas. Talk is always a performance in context, especially in professional situations (such as the consultation) and institutional ones (the assessment of professional skills and competence). Candidates who can handle the social and linguistic complexities of the artificial context of assessed role-plays score highly – yet what is being assessed is not real professional communication, but the ability to voice a credible appearance of such communication. Summary Fidelity may not be the primary objective of simulation for medical training, where it enables the practising of skills. However the linguistic problems and differences that arise from interacting in artificial settings are of considerable importance in assessment, where we must be sure that the exam construct adequately embodies the skills expected for real-life practice. The reproducibility of assessed simulations should not be confused with their validity. Sociolinguistic analysis of simulations in various professional contexts has identified evidence for the gap between real interactions and assessed role-plays. The contextual conditions of the simulated consultation both expect and reward a particular interactional style. Whilst simulation undoubtedly has a place in formative learning for professional communication, the simulated consultation may distort assessment of professional communication These sociolinguistic findings contribute to the on-going critique of simulations in high-stakes assessments and indicate that further research, which steps outside psychometric approaches, is necessary.

Publication DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-016-0535-2
Divisions: College of Business and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences & Humanities
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College of Business and Social Sciences > Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics
College of Business and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences & Humanities > English Languages and Applied Linguistics
Additional Information: © 2016 Atkins et al. Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
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Related URLs: https://bmcmede ... 2909-016-0535-2 (Publisher URL)
PURE Output Type: Article
Published Date: 2016-01-15
Accepted Date: 2016-01-06
Authors: Atkins, Sarah (ORCID Profile 0000-0003-3481-5681)
Roberts, Celia
Hawthorne, Kamila
Greenhalgh, Trisha

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