Diagnostic reasoning has been shown to be influenced by a prior similar patient case. However, it is unclear whether this process influences diagnostic error rates or whether clinicians at all experience levels are equally susceptible. The present study measured the influence of specific prior exposure and experience level on diagnostic accuracy.
To create the experience of prior exposure, participants (pre-clerkship medical students, emergency medicine residents, and faculty) first verified diagnoses of clinical vignettes. The influence of prior exposures was measured using equiprobable clinical vignettes; indicating two diagnoses. Participants diagnosed equiprobable cases that were: 1) matched to exposure cases (in one of three conditions: a) similar patient features, similar clinical features; b) dissimilar patient features, similar clinical features; c) similar patient features, dissimilar clinical features), or 2) not matched to any prior case (d) no exposure). A diagnosis consistent with a matched exposure case was scored correct. Cases with no prior exposure had no matched cases, hence validated the equiprobable design.
Diagnosis A represented 47% of responses in
condition d, but there was no influence of specific similarity of patient characteristics for Diagnosis A, F(3,712)=7.28, p=0.28 or Diagnosis B, F(3,712)=4.87, p=0.19. When re-scored based on matching both equiprobable diagnoses, accuracy was high, but favored faculty (n=40) 98%, and residents (n=39) 98% over medical students (n=32) 85%, F(2,712)=35.6, p<0.0001. Accuracy for medical students was 84, 87, 94, and 73% for conditions a–d, respectively, interaction F(2,712)=3.55, p<0.002. Conclusions
The differential diagnosis of pre-clerkship medical students improved with prior exposure, but this was unrelated to specific case or patient features. The accuracy of medical residents and staff was not influenced by prior exposure.