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J Nippon Med Sch. 2013;80(1):57-62.

Pitfalls in training simulated patients to respond appropriately to questions from medical students in family history-taking activities: the current situation surrounding the training of simulated patients for learning activities at Nippon Medical School.

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  • 1Academic Quality and Development Office, Nippon Medical School, Tokyo, Japan. aso@nma.ac.jp


Our goal was to train simulated patients (SPs) to respond appropriately to questions about family history from medical students in simulated medical interviews. To this end, we carried out a survey of 91 SPs and 76 4th-year medical students to investigate their notions of what constitutes a family. All of the SPs and students surveyed deemed parents and children living together to be members of a family. In a situation where one spouse's parents live together with the basic family unit, 93% of the SPs considered them to be members of the family, whereas only 79% of the students did. Married children living apart from their parents were considered members of the family by 18% of the SPs and 39% of the students. These results indicate clear differences between the SPs and students in their notions of the family. To verify the level of understanding of the definitions of family and blood relatives in particular scenarios used in simulated medical interviews, we administered a written test to 14 SPs who were training to assist in the nationwide common achievement test in medicine, the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE). The overall score of the SPs was 93.5%; the incorrect answers were "a sibling is not a blood relative" and "a spouse is a blood relative." We analyzed the performance of these 14 SPs in medical interviews carried out after training for the OSCE, in which they were asked questions that required them to reveal their understanding of blood relatives, cohabiting relatives, and the family. All of the SPs responded appropriately to the students' questions about family history. After the OSCE, we asked the SPs to assess themselves on how well they had given their family histories and to evaluate the usefulness of the SP training they had received. Their mean self-assessment score on providing a family history was 3.6 (scale: 1-4); on the usefulness of training, it was 3.4 (scale: 1-4). In conclusion, training SPs to respond appropriately to questions about family history in medical interviews is very important. Medical students have to learn how to take family histories accurately, so SP trainers should pay attention to training SPs in giving appropriate responses to students' questions, bearing in mind the differences between family history taking and everyday conversations about the family.

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