Effect of In-Class vs Online Education on Sexual Health Communication Skills in First-Year Medical Students: a Pilot Study

Brian A. Palmer, James H. Lee, Kristin J. Somers, Cosima C. Swintak, Jordan Rullo, Robert P. Bright, J. Michael Bostwick, Mark A. Frye, Jeannie A. Sperry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Abstract: Objective: Online education is effective for knowledge acquisition, but its effect on clinical skill development is not well characterized. We aimed to compare communication skills of 50 first-year medical students who learned to assess and treat patients through an online learning module vs an in-class lecture. Methods: Twenty-six students were randomized to learn about antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction in class and 24 learned the same content through an online module. Students were individually observed conducting an interview with a standardized patient with antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction. Students were assessed by faculty raters blinded to the student’s learning mode. Standardized patients were asked about their willingness to have the student as their physician. Results: More students who learned in class vs online demonstrated appropriate verbal empathy (18 [69%] vs 8 [33%]; P = 0.01), defined as completing each task in the “verbal empathy” assessment domain, as measured by a faculty rater. Other assessed variables were not significantly different. Standardized patients’ willingness (vs unwillingness; P = 0.01) to have the student as their physician was associated with the demonstration (by faculty appraisal) of a number of basic skills: using open-ended questions, asking one question at a time, using gender-neutral terminology when asking about the patient’s relationship, and using appropriate sexual-health terminology. Conclusions: This study, although limited by a single-site design and the small number of participants, offers preliminary evidence that, if confirmed, may suggest that in-class learning from a psychiatrist (vs from an online module) is associated with greater verbal empathy in the assessment of SSRI-related sexual dysfunction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-179
Number of pages5
JournalAcademic Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 15 2019


  • Communication skills
  • Medical education
  • Online education
  • Simulation
  • Standardized patients

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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