Using Relational Reasoning Strategies to Help Improve Clinical Reasoning Practice

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Abstract

Clinical reasoning—the steps up to and including establishing a diagnosis and/or therapy—is a fundamentally important mental process for physicians. Unfortunately, mounting evidence suggests that errors in clinical reasoning lead to substantial problems for medical professionals and patients alike, including suboptimal care, malpractice claims, and rising health care costs. For this reason, cognitive strategies by which clinical reasoning may be improved—and that many expert clinicians are already using—are highly relevant for all medical professionals, educators, and learners.

In this Perspective, the authors introduce one group of cognitive strategies—termed relational reasoning strategies—that have been empirically shown, through limited educational and psychological research, to improve the accuracy of learners’ reasoning both within and outside of the medical disciplines. The authors contend that relational reasoning strategies may help clinicians to be metacognitive about their own clinical reasoning; such strategies may also be particularly well suited for explicitly organizing clinical reasoning instruction for learners. Because the particular curricular efforts that may improve the relational reasoning of medical students are not known at this point, the authors describe the nature of previous research on relational reasoning strategies to encourage the future design, implementation, and evaluation of instructional interventions for relational reasoning within the medical education literature. The authors also call for continued research on using relational reasoning strategies and their role in clinical practice and medical education, with the long-term goal of improving diagnostic accuracy.

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