Comparing information-gathering strategies of medical students and physicians in diagnosing simulated medical cases

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Using a broad range of written patient management problems (PMPs), this study examined (1) how each of three medical information-gathering processes (history-taking, physical examination, and diagnostic studies) influenced 175 second-year medical students' formulations of the differential (i.e., plausible) and the principal (i.e., most probable) diagnoses for each of 14 PMPs, and (2) the extent to which these results paralleled the emphases that experienced clinicians placed on these same information-gathering processes regarding each of the same PMPs. The results suggest that in ten of the 14 PMPs the students appeared to rely on specific information-gathering strategies in formulating their diagnoses, and that both similarities and differences existed between the levels of emphasis placed by the students and physicians on each of the three processes. In general, the physicians placed greater emphasis on the importance of the history, whereas the students relied more on diagnostic studies. These variations have implications for selecting medical problems for purposes of instruction and evaluation of students.

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