Incoming Interns Recognize Inadequate Physical Examination as a Cause of Patient Harm.

Academic Article


  • INTRODUCTION: As providers of a large portion of the care delivered at academic health centers, medical trainees have a unique perspective on medical error. Despite data suggesting that errors in physical examination (PE) can lead to adverse patient events, we are not aware of previous studies exploring medical trainee perceptions of the relationship between patient harm and inadequate PE. We investigated whether first-year residents at a large tertiary care academic medical center perceive inadequate PE as a cause of adverse patient events. METHODS: As part of a larger survey given to incoming interns at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital orientation (2014-2018), the authors examined the perceptions of inadequate PE and adverse patient events. We also examined other details related to PE educational experiences and self-reported PE proficiency. The survey was developed a priori by the authors and assessed for face validity by expert faculty. RESULTS: Ninety-eight percent of respondents (695/706) reported that inadequate PE leads to adverse patient events. Seventy percent (492/706) believe that inadequate PE causes adverse events in up to 10% of all patient encounters, and 30% (214/706) reported that inadequate PE causes adverse events in greater than 10% of patient encounters. Forty-five percent of surveyed interns (319/715) had witnessed a patient safety issue as a result of an inadequate PE. Only 2% of surveyed interns (11/706) did not think patients experience adverse events because of inadequate PEs. Ninety percent of surveyed interns (643/712) reported feeling proficient in performing PE. From 2015 to 2018, 80% (486/604) indicated that they received "just enough" PE education. CONCLUSION: Nearly all incoming interns surveyed at our institution believe that inadequate PE leads to adverse patient events, and 45% have witnessed an adverse patient event due to inadequate PE. We urge clinicians, educators, and health care administrators to consider enhanced PE skills training as an important and viable approach to medical error reduction, and as such, we propose a 5-pronged intervention for improvement, including a redesign of PE curricula, development of checklist-based assessment methods, ongoing skills training and assessment of physicians-in-practice, rigorous study of PE maneuvers, and research into whether enhanced PE skills improve patient outcomes.
  • Keywords

  • Medical Education, Physical Examination
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Russo S; Berg K; Davis J; Davis R; Riesenberg LA; Morgan C; Chambers L; Berg D
  • Start Page

  • 2382120520928993
  • Volume

  • 7