SIU, Parallel Consulting Receive NIH Grant to Help Medical Students Learn Clinical Reasoning

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October 22, 2014

SIU, Parallel Consulting Receive NIH Grant to Help Medical Students Learn Clinical Reasoning

Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and Parallel Consulting, an information technology company based in Petaluma, Calif., have received a federal grant to design computer-based training that will improve how medical students and new physicians learn clinical reasoning skills. The total amount of the one-year award from the National Institutes of Health is $145,000.

Clinical reasoning skills are how physicians collect, process and understand information to make decisions for their patients. “Doctors are expected to have effective, independent, diagnostic reasoning skills straight out of medical school, but this is not the case,” said Noelle LaVoie, Ph.D., a cognitive psychologist and founder of Parallel Consulting. “We know that experience is the best predictor of diagnostic skills, so the key is to find a way to give medical students more experience-based training.” LaVoie is the primary investigator of the Phase I Small Business Technology Transfer grant from the NIH National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

The research will build on SIU School of Medicine’s decades of success with performance-based clinical competency exams and address a critical gap between education and practice in academic medicine. SIU will collaborate with LaVoie to develop an “Advanced Assessment To Accelerate Diagnostic Skill Acquisition.”

The project will develop an application to automatically score diagnostic justification essays (DXJ), which test medical students’ clinical skills. Easier scoring may lead to more widespread use of the DXJ, which is considered the most reliable, but yet infrequently used, test to assess diagnostic ability. “The application will remove the barrier of time-consuming scoring and allow for the widespread use of DXJ in medical education,” said SIU School of Medicine Assistant Professor Anna Cianciolo, Ph.D., who is co-principal investigator on the project.

The project also will help medical educators better identify and correct residents’ clinical reasoning ability. “It is difficult to identify specific reasoning failures in students and residents and provide quality feedback,” Cianciolo said. The project will use machine-learning approaches, including Latent Semantic Analysis, to study DXJ essays to detect the reasoning quality from the language students use. “Latent Semantic Analysis is a powerful technology that gives insight into the meaning and thought expressed in text,” said Dian Martin, an expert in Latent Semantic Analysis at Small Bear Technologies and a collaborator on the project.

The results of the project will improve students’ ability to gain diagnostic skills and help first-year residents quickly improve their level of competency. It also will improve medical educators’ ability to teach and assess medical students’ diagnostic reasoning.

Parallel Consulting specializes in applied behavioral research with an emphasis on developing practical software-based solutions for real world problems.

SIU School of Medicine (www.siumed.edu) is an international leader in medical education based in Carbondale and Springfield, Illinois. It is specifically oriented to educating new physicians prepared to practice in Illinois communities.

Media Contacts

Karen Carlson,
SIU, 217-545-3854

Lauren Murphy,
SIU, 217-545-2819

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