Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 13, Issue 6, pp 356–366 | Cite as

Communication training for health professionals who care for patients with cancer: a systematic review of training methods

  • Marjolein Gysels
  • Alison Richardson
  • Irene J. Higginson
Review Article



Effective communication is increasingly recognised as a core clinical skill. Many health and social care professionals, however, do not feel adequately trained in communicating and in handling interpersonal issues that arise in the care of patients with cancer.


The aim of this paper was to assess the effectiveness of different training methods used in communication training courses for health professionals.


We searched six computerised databases and augmented this with follow-up of references and grey (unpublished) literature. We included all studies evaluating communication training and assessed methodological quality according to the standard grading system of the Clinical Outcomes Group. Data on author, year, setting, objectives, study design and training methods were extracted and compared in tabular format.


A total of 47 studies potentially assessing communication training were identified. Sixteen papers were included evaluating 13 interventions. Four were randomised controlled trials (RCTs) (grade a); the others were grade III. Eleven interventions trained health professionals; two trained medical students. Interventions for training in communication skills were characterised by the variety of communication approaches used and a diversity of methods. They were applied to health professionals with very different roles, served different purposes and evaluated a variety of outcome measures: behavioural assessments, patient outcomes and professionals’ self-report.


The best results are to be expected from a training programme that is carried out over a longer period of time. Learner-centred programmes using several methods combining a didactic component focusing on theoretical knowledge with practical rehearsal and constructive feedback from peers and skilled facilitators proved to be very effective. Small groups encouraged more intensive participation. Training in communication for both medical or nursing students and senior health professionals is advisable.


Communication training Health professionals Cancer care Systematic review Training methods 



This work was undertaken by King’s College London, which received funding from National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE). The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the institute. We thank Lesley Fallowfield for helpful comments on this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marjolein Gysels
    • 1
  • Alison Richardson
    • 2
  • Irene J. Higginson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Palliative Care and PolicyKing’s CollegeLondonUK
  2. 2.The Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and MidwiferyKing’s CollegeLondonUK

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