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Keywords:

  • content-specificity;
  • diagnosis;
  • hypothetico-deductive reasoning;
  • pattern-recognition;
  • problem-solving;
  • scheme-inductive reasoning

Purpose Cognitive psychology research supports the notion that experts use mental frameworks or ‘schemes’, both to organize knowledge in memory and to solve clinical problems. The central purpose of this study was to determine the relationship between problem-solving strategies and the likelihood of diagnostic success.

Methods Think-aloud protocols were collected to determine the diagnostic reasoning used by experts and non-experts when attempting to diagnose clinical presentations in gastroenterology.

Results Using logistic regression analysis, the study found that there is a relationship between diagnostic reasoning strategy and the likelihood of diagnostic success. Compared to hypothetico-deductive reasoning, the odds of diagnostic success were significantly greater when subjects used the diagnostic strategies of pattern recognition and scheme-inductive reasoning. Two other factors emerged as independent determinants of diagnostic success: expertise and clinical presentation. Not surprisingly, experts outperformed novices, while the content area of the clinical cases in each of the four clinical presentations demonstrated varying degrees of difficulty and thus diagnostic success.

Conclusions These findings have significant implications for medical educators. It supports the introduction of ‘schemes’ as a means of enhancing memory organization and improving diagnostic success.