Processing of critical information by physicians and medical students

Lorence D. Coughlin, Vimla L. Patel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


In the study reported here, differences between physicians and medical students in their recall of information from clinical problems were investigated. The focus of the study was on the recognition and recall of critical cues within cases as a function of problem difficulty and the organization of clinical information. Two clinical cases in two structural forms (typical and random) were designed, and the participants’ written recall of the cases was analyzed using the techniques of discourse analysis. The results show that the physicians recalled significantly more critical cues than the medical students. However, when the case had a temporally ordered, underlying disease process, the random structure of the text disrupted both the physicians’ ability to recall critical cues and the accuracy of their diagnoses. The medical students were unaffected by problem type or structural form in the amount of information they recalled. The results show that the physicians and medical students formulate the information from clinical problems differently, and this difference is due to the fact that the physicians recognize patterns of familiar problems with respect to critical cues but the students do not.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)818-828
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Medical Education
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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