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Press release


Cooperation Reduces Diagnostic Errors

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Medical students work better in teams than individually

Future doctors can profit from teamwork. Scientists at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, and the University of Konstanz have demonstrated that diagnostic accuracy increases when medical students work in teams of two, rather than individually. This means that false diagnoses can be easily avoided. The results of the study have been published in the professional journal JAMA*.

Around 90 medical students at the Charité were given the task of diagnosing simulated patient cases on a computer. All these future physicians possessed more or less equivalent levels of expertise and, in each case, they were asked to prescribe diagnostic tests for six patients suffering from shortness of breath. Based on the findings they obtained they had to select a diagnosis – either as individuals or in teams of two. Researchers have come to the conclusion that physicians in training can profit from working together as a team, their diagnoses are more accurate and there is a 17-% decrease in errors. Most of these mistakes occur due to errors in judgment and reasoning, or errors in assessing the data.

While physicians working in teams of two needed a bit longer to reach a diagnosis, the diagnostic tests they prescribe would actually take less time in a real clinical setting. "To be certain of their diagnoses, physicians in training working alone tend to over-prescribe diagnostic tests. Whereas teams make their decisions similar to the way experienced physicians do, which in turn reduces the scope of the diagnosing process" says Wolf E. Hautz, lead author of the study. Pairs are also more confident in terms of their diagnosing skills. The sense of confidence of the individual physician is not necessarily reflected in the accuracy of his/her diagnosis. Cooperation can particularly benefit physicians in training. Similar studies have confirmed these findings: teams are generally better at successfully carrying out complex tasks.

*Wolf E. Hautz, Juliane E. Kämmer, Stefan K. Schauber, Claudia D. Spies, Wolfgang Gaissmaier: "Diagnostic Performance by Medical Students Working Individually or in Teams", JAMA, 2015 Jan 20. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.15770.


Medizinische Klinik für Anästhesiologie mit Schwerpunkt operative Intensivmedizin


Prof. Dr. Claudia Spies
Medizinische Klinik für Anästhesiologie mit Schwerpunkt operative Intensivmedizin
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin   
t: +49 30 450 531 012

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