Checking patient understanding, by asking questions about information presented in a medical consultation, is a core communication skill but its use is not frequently assessed. The newborn hearing screening commenced in England with a pilot of its implementation in January 2002. Because
it is a new screening test, it provided an opportunity for studying the effective communication of novel information. A randomized controlled trial of training newborn hearing screeners to present information about the screening test and to ask questions to check understanding was commenced
but had to be prematurely ended as the majority of the screeners did not ask the questions. The aim of this study was to understand why the screeners did not ask questions to check understanding of the information provided. Questionnaires were sent to screeners who participated in the study
to elicit their responses to the use of the questions to check understanding. A response rate of 87% (26/30) was achieved. Screeners who reported not asking the questions were more likely to express a lack of confidence in their ability to ask questions, and to perceive asking questions as
an ineffective way of increasing patient understanding. The study suggests that the ability and willingness of healthcare professionals to use simple communication skills may have been overestimated and training needs to target skills as well as beliefs about the effectiveness of using them.
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