Evidence in clinical reasoning: a computational linguistics analysis of 789,712 medical case summaries 1983–2012
Background: Better understanding of clinical reasoning could reduce diagnostic error linked to 8% of adverse medical events and 30% of malpractice cases. To a greater extent than the evidence-based movement, the clinical reasoning literature asserts the importance of practitioner intuition—unconscious elements of diagnostic reasoning. The study aimed to analyse the content of case report summaries in ways that explored the importance of an evidence concept, not only in relation to research literature but also intuition.
Methods: The study sample comprised all 789,712 abstracts in English for case reports contained in the database PUBMED for the period 1 January 1983 to 31 December 2012. It was hypothesised that, if evidence and intuition concepts were viewed by these clinical authors as essential to understanding their case reports, they would be more likely to be found in the abstracts. Computational linguistics software was used in 1) concept mapping of 21,631,481 instances of 201 concepts, and 2) specific concept analyses examining 200 paired co-occurrences for ‘evidence’ and research ‘literature’ concepts.
Results: ‘Evidence’ is a fundamentally patient-centred, intuitive concept linked to less common concepts about underlying processes, suspected disease mechanisms and diagnostic hunches. In contrast, the use of research literature in clinical reasoning is linked to more common reasoning concepts about specific knowledge and descriptions or presenting features of cases. ‘Literature’ is by far the most dominant concept, increasing in relevance since 2003, with an overall relevance of 13% versus 5% for ‘evidence’ which has remained static.
Conclusions: The fact that the least present types of reasoning concepts relate to diagnostic hunches to do with underlying processes, such as what is suspected, raises questions about whether intuitive practitioner evidence-making, found in a constellation of dynamic, process concepts, has become less important. The study adds support to the existing corpus of research on clinical reasoning, by suggesting that intuition involves a complex constellation of concepts important to how the construct of evidence is understood. The list of concepts the study generated offers a basis for reflection on the nature of evidence in diagnostic reasoning and the importance of intuition to that reasoning.
Publication titleBMC Medical Information and Decision Making
Department/SchoolWicking Dementia Research Education Centre
Place of publicationUnited Kingdom
Rights statement© 2015 Bell et al.; licensee BioMed Central. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/