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Reliability and Validity Testing of an Evidence-Based Medicine OSCE Station

 Reliability and Validity Testing of an Evidence-Based Medicine OSCE Station


Fred Tudiver, MD, corresponding author1

Box 70621

Dept Family Medicine

James H Quillen College of Medicine

East Tennessee State University

Johnson City, TN 37614

Voice: 423-439-6738

Fax: 423-439-2440




Doug Rose, MD1

Burt Banks, MD1

Deborah Pfortmiller, MA1


1East Tennessee State University


Portions of the content of this paper were presented at the Society of Teachers in Family Medicine meeting, Toronto, May 14, 2004. 



Date Submitted: May 22, 2008


Word Count: 1207


Key Words: evidence-based medicine; OSCE; family medicine








Reliability and Validity Testing of an Evidence-Based Medicine OSCE Station





The six competencies of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education include the lifelong learning skills of Evidence-Based Medicine/Information Mastery. We developed and tested an Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) station that would measure these skills in Family Medicine residents. This EBM OSCE station is a 30-minute station within a regular OSCE exam. It uses an 8-point checklist and global measure, and has good psychometric properties including construct validity, interrater reliability (correlation=.96), and internal reliability (Cronbach’s=.58). This tool is useful for training programs, as assessing EBM/Information Mastery is an important part of the evaluation of physician skills.
In 1999 the Outcomes Project of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) developed six core competencies—all to be implemented by July, 2007. The competency areas of medical knowledge and practice-based learning and improvement specifically included the concepts of lifelong learning. The second phase of the project (2002–2006) asked training programs to assess the six competencies; with the aid of a “toolbox” of suggested assessment techniques.1 For the lifelong learning competencies listed above, the toolbox often included the use of Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs).


The specific lifelong learning competencies overlap with the four major skills of Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM): 1) Translation of uncertainty to an answerable question; 2) Systematic retrieval of best evidence available; 3) Critical appraisal of evidence for validity, clinical relevance, and applicability; and 4) Application of results in practice.2  


A recently published systematic review of 104 unique instruments for evaluating the teaching of EBM skills found most were tested on medical students and residents, and most were restricted to assessing skills in searching and critical appraisal.3 The reviewers concluded that of the 104 instruments, 34 measured actual EBM clinical behaviors; of these, only six used objective outcome measures and only three measured the performance of evidence-based clinical maneuvers in practice.4-6 The rest relied on retrospective self reports. These three measures recorded practice audits as a proxy for visualizing actual practice itself.


Another four studies in the review used OSCEs to assess EBM skills on medical students, but they had limitations. One was restricted to assessing searching strategies,7 another did not assess searching or critical appraisal skills,8 and a third was restricted to assessing critical appraisal.9  The fourth study was the only study of the four that examined psychometric properties of the measure, but it did not assess how the searches were performed.10  A paper on a fifth OSCE related EBM skills measure (also with medical students) was published after the systematic review, but it did not appraise search skills.11 Most of the OSCE-based studies restricted their searching databases to MEDLINE.


The purpose of this pilot study was to develop and test an OSCE station that measured EBM skills.


Setting and Subjects

Three of the authors initially developed a set of two “EBM OSCE” stations based on two different integrated OSCEs which are given to the incoming first and second year residents in the Department of Family Medicine at East Tennessee State University as a formative evaluation in the first month of their year. Twenty-three first-year residents and 19 second-year residents completed the testing. The integrated OSCE consisted of six different stations (standardized patient interview, focused clinical examination, interpretation of lab findings, development of differential diagnosis and plan, exploration of ethics, and confidentiality issues), with an innovative EBM station at the end.  The two OSCEs were based on two cases: 1) For first year residents, a patient with multiple myeloma presenting with back pain; 2) For 2nd year residents, a patient was admitted with pancreatitis and alcohol abuse.


The EBM OSCE Stations

The residents were given 30 minutes to complete three sections of inquiry for each of the OSCEs. In the first they had to develop a 4-part P.I.C.O. question (Patient-Intervention-Comparison if any-Outcomes) related to the OSCE case. In the second section they were given a P.I.C.O. question based on the same case and asked to find the best evidence answer. They were provided with a computer connected to the internet and all the medical college library resources including MEDLINE, Cochrane Databases of Systematic Reviews and Clinical Trials, D.A.R.E., ACP Journal Club, InfoRetriever, InfoPoems, UpToDate, and DynaMed. Residents completed a form documenting the resources searched, terms used, type of studies found, usefulness, best evidence answer to the question, and justification for choosing the study or studies. The third section contained seven multiple choice questions assessing comprehension of levels of evidence and understanding of Disease Oriented Evidence (DOE) versus Patient Oriented Evidence that Matters (POEM).12


Testing and Scoring

Most modern OSCEs utilize both a checklist and global scoring mechanism.13,14 We devised a similar set of evaluation measures for the EBM OSCE, with response scale items based on the EBM literature. After three iterations of testing we came up with a revised 8-item checklist. The eight items in the checklist included questions on the four major EBM skills as well as on efficiency finding answers to their questions and assessing levels of evidence for critically appraising articles. The possible scores of the 8-item checklist ranged from zero to 24 and were computed by summing the eight items, each with a response range of zero to 3. The 2-item global scale (one item for process, the second for the answer) ranged from zero (no response) to 10 (highly effective and efficient search). Three author raters (FT, DR, BB), independently scored the checklists and global scores after a number of discussions and agreements on how to score. 


Data Analysis

We measured content validity by using feedback from expert opinion and construct validity by using independent t-tests to compare the means of the first- and second-year residents. Pearson correlation coefficient was used to examine the strength of the relationship between the checklist measure and the global measure, giving a measure of criterion validity. We measured interrater reliability by using two-way mixed effects intraclass correlations for consistency and internal reliability by using Cronbach’s alpha.



There was good construct validity as new rising 2nd year residents (most of whom had EBM training) had higher scores than new 1st year residents on the global assessment score (See the Table). Second year residents also scored higher on the 8-item checklist score, but this difference was not significant (PGY1 mean=15.05; PGY2 mean=16.37). The checklist and global assessment measure had a statistically significant positive correlation (r=0.62, p<.001). The final 8-item checklist and the global assessment had good interrater reliability (0.96 and 0.92 respectively) (Table). The internal reliability of the 8-item scale as measured by Cronbach’s alpha was 0.58, considered acceptable.15





This brief report describes the development and testing of a new, innovative assessment tool for evaluating the four major skills of EBM. In addition, it tests these skills in a simulated clinical situation – the OSCE. The tool is flexible and can be used in almost any clinical OSCE situation, once the OSCE itself is developed.


Some of the psychometric properties (construct validity, interrater reliability, criterion validity) were good including the criterion validity as the Global and checklist correlation was highly significant.; however, although the Cronbach’s alpha reliability of 0.58 is considered acceptable to evaluate level of group accomplishment;15 other newer references indicate that 0.70 is a standard level.16,17 This and the lack of a significant difference in the checklist between the two resident years could be a problem of power with the relatively low numbers of residents in the study.


The development of standardized tools for assessing skills of EBM/Information Mastery is becoming an essential part of the evaluation of physician skills. Until we have integrated these tools routinely in our education of these physicians and other health professionals, we will be unable to evaluate performance in one of the key competency skillsthat of lifelong learning.  Future development of this tool will need testing on larger numbers and more rigorous testing of the psychometric properties.






1.      Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Table of toolbox methods. Available at: Accessed February 12, 2008.

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6.      Ellis J, Mulligan I, Rowe J, Sackett DL. Inpatient general medicine is evidence based: A-Team, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine. Lancet 1995;346:407-10.

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11.        Frohna JG, Gruppen LD, Fliegel JE, Mangrulkar RS. Development of an evaluation of medical student competence in evidence-based medicine using a computer-based OSCE station. Teaching Learning Med 2006;18:267-72.

12.        Ebell MH, Shaughnessy A. Information mastery: integrating continuing medical education with the information needs of clinicians. J Contin Educ Health Prof 2003;23:Suppl 1:S53-62.

13.        Jefferies A, Simmons B, Tabak D, et al. Using an objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) to assess multiple physician competencies in postgraduate training. Med Teach 2007;29:183-91.

14.        Berkenstadt H, Ziv A, Gafni N, Sidi A. The validation process of incorporating simulation-based accreditation into the anesthesiology Israeli national board exams. Isr Med Assoc J 2006;8:728-33.

15.  Helmstadter GC. Principles of Psychological Measurement. New York, New York: Appleton Century Crofts, 1964.

16.  Streiner DL, Norman GR. Health Measurement Scales: A Practical Guide to Their Development and Use (2nd ed.). New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

17.  Polit DF, Beck CT. Nursing Research: Principles and Methods (7th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2004.




TABLE: Properties and Results of the EBM OSCE Station


Test Property                           Measure Utilized                                   Results___________

Content validity             Expert opinion                          Covered critical EBM skills

                                                                                                revisions based on feedback


Construct validity                      Mean scores of 1st year            1st year mean global scores lower

(ability of an instrument to         compared to 2nd year                than 2nd year (5.65 vs. 6.95)

measure an abstract concept)                                                    t=-2.10, p=.043


Criterion validity                       Global measure correlated        Good agreement

(ability of one test to                 With Checklist measure            (0.62, p<.001)

predict the results obtained in

Another test)


Interrater reliability                    Interrater correlation                 High agreement

(degree of agreement in             for Checklist and Global           0.96 for Checklist

scores between 3 raters)           Measures                                 0.92 for Global Score


Internal reliability                       Cronbach’s alpha                     Acceptable (0.58)

(degree to which groups of

test questions measure a

single construct)





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