Developing a unified list of physicians' reasoning tasks during clinical encounters.

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Academic medicine : journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges





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PURPOSE: The clinical reasoning literature focuses on how physicians reason while making decisions, rather than on what they reason about while performing their clinical tasks. In an attempt to provide a common language for discussing, teaching, and researching clinical reasoning, the authors undertook the task of developing a unified list of physicians' reasoning tasks, or what they reason about, during clinical encounters.

METHOD: The authors compiled an initial list of 20 reasoning tasks based on the literature from four content areas--clinical reasoning, communications, medical errors, and clinical guidelines. In the summer and fall of 2010, they surveyed a purposive sample of 46 international experts in clinical reasoning and communications. From the results of the first survey, the authors refined their list of reasoning tasks, then resurveyed 22 of the original participants. From the results of the second survey, they further refined their list and validated the inclusion of the reasoning tasks.

RESULTS: Twenty-four of 46 (52%) and 15 of 22 (65%) participants completed the first- and second-round surveys, respectively. Following the second-round survey, the authors' list included 24 reasoning tasks, and a clinical example corresponding to each, that fell into four broad categories: framing the encounter (3), diagnosis (8), management (11), and self-reflection (2).

CONCLUSIONS: The development of this unified list represents a first step in offering a vocabulary for discussing, reflecting on, teaching, and studying physicians' reasoning tasks during clinical encounters.

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