Development of visual diagnostic expertise in pathology: An information-processing study

Rebecca S. Crowley, Gregory J. Naus, Jimmie Stewart, Charles P. Friedman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


Objective: To identify key features contributing to trainees' development of expertise in microscopic pathology diagnosis, a complex visual task, and to provide new insights to help create computer-based training systems in pathology. Design: Standard methods of information-processing and cognitive science were used to study diagnostic processes (search, perception, reasoning) of 28 novices, intermediates, and experts. Participants examined cases in breast pathology; each case had a previously established gold standard diagnosis. Videotapes correlated the actual visual data examined by participants with their verbal "think-aloud" protocols. Measurements: Investigators measured accuracy, difficulty, certainty, protocol process frequencies, error frequencies, and times to key diagnostic events for each case and subject. Analyses of variance, chi-square tests and post-hoc comparisons were performed with subject as the unit of analysis. Results: Level of expertise corresponded with differences in search, perception, and reasoning components of the tasks. Several discrete steps occur on the path to competence, including development of adequate search strategies, rapid and accurate recognition of anatomic location, acquisition of visual data interpretation skills, and transitory reliance on explicit feature identification. Conclusion: Results provide the basis for an empirical cognitive model of competence for the complex tasks of microscopic pathology diagnosis. Results will inform the development of computer-based pedagogy tools in this domain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-51
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the American Medical Informatics Association
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2003

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