Using Standardised Patients to Measure Physicians' Practice

Validation Study Using Audio Recordings

Published in: BMJ, British Medical Journal, v. 325, no. 7366, Sep. 28, 2002, p. 1-5

Posted on on December 31, 2001

by Jeffrey Luck, John Peabody

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OBJECTIVE: To assess the validity of standardised patients to measure the quality of physicians' practice. DESIGN: Validation study of standardised patients' assessments. Physicians saw unannounced standardised patients presenting with common outpatient conditions. The standardised patients covertly tape recorded their visit and completed a checklist of quality criteria immediately afterwards. Their assessments were compared against independent assessments of the recordings by a trained medical records abstractor. SETTING: Four general internal medicine primary care clinics in California. Participants: 144 randomly selected consenting physicians. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Rates of agreement between the patients' assessments and independent assessment. RESULTS: 40 visits, one per standardised patient, were recorded. The overall rate of agreement between the standardised patients' checklists and the independent assessment of the audio transcripts was 91% (kappa=0.81). Disaggregating the data by medical condition, site, level of physicians' training, and domain (stage of the consultation) gave similar rates of agreement. Sensitivity of the standardised patients' assessments was 95%, and specificity was 85%. The area under the receiver operator characteristic curve was 90%. CONCLUSIONS: Standardised patients' assessments seem to be a valid measure of the quality of physicians' care for a variety of common medical conditions in actual outpatient settings. Properly trained standardised patients compare well with independent assessment of recordings of the consultations and may justify their use as a gold standard in comparing the quality of care across sites or evaluating data obtained from other sources, such as medical records and clinical vignettes.

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