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Collaboration Between Med Students Cuts Diagnostic Errors

Diagnostic accuracy higher for pairs than individuals assessing cases of respiratory distress

TUESDAY, Jan. 20, 2015 (HealthDay News) — For fourth-year medical students, working collaboratively is associated with a reduction in diagnostic errors, according to a research letter published in the Jan. 20 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Wolf E. Hautz, M.D., from the Charité Campus Mitte and Campus Virchow Klinikum in Berlin, and colleagues examined the effect of working in pairs versus working alone on diagnostic performance among a sample of fourth-year medical students. Participants assessed six cases of respiratory distress on a computer, which had been previously validated. Eighty-eight participants were randomly allocated to work either individually (28 students) or in pairs (60 students).

The researchers found that, despite having comparable knowledge about the topic and selecting an equal number of diagnostic tests, pairs were more accurate than individuals (67.78 versus 50.00 percent; P = 0.004). On average, pairs selected more relevant tests, but did so only when incorrect. Compared with individuals, pairs took 2.02 minutes longer to reach a diagnosis, but the selected tests would have taken 6.15 minutes less in reality. Confidence was higher among pairs, but their confidence was not better calibrated (difference between correct and incorrect cases was the same). Confidence between participants within pairs differed more when diagnosis was incorrect versus correct (P = 0.02).

“Working collaboratively reduced diagnostic errors among medical students,” the authors write. “Similar to other studies, collaboration may have helped correct errors, fill knowledge gaps, and counteract reasoning flaws.”

One author disclosed financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

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