Strengthening decision support in medical education – Part 1

Each of us makes hundreds, if not thousands of decisions every day. You probably don’t have to think too much about what to have for dinner, or if a particular pair of shoes go with your outfit – our experience and intuition help us make those decisions quickly. We are so used to making quick decisions that big decisions can get made the same way – quickly, without considering all of the available information.

Too often, the data to support decision making in medical education is time consuming to assemble and difficult to interpret. When we need to decide if a student has mastered the skills necessary to move on, or what we can do to improve learner satisfaction with a course next year, we’re stuck with a stack of paper or a collection of browser tabs that take hours to sift through.

Is it any wonder that when faced with this workload, we end up reverting to our experience and intuition to make the call?

In our Guide to Precision Medical Education (PME), we discuss how data integration and decision support are the cornerstone of PME. Luckily, decision support isn’t a pie-in-the-sky future idea – with the right tool, like Acuity Analytics, you can put the data you’re already collecting to work today to help you make decisions that incorporate your experience, but back them up with data to prove you’re right.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.

Prepare to meet with a student

One way that Acuity Analytics can help you with decision support is by allowing you to explore your data. Most medical students perform very well; few struggle, and even fewer have real difficulty and require support. Not every student needs the same level of support, and Analytics can help you to devote your time to the students who will benefit from it the most by making it easy to review “just enough” information to have a productive meeting.

In practice this might mean starting by reviewing a dashboard in Analytics that shows you a learner’s final grades and summative exam scores. Does the learner have mostly A’s or Honors grades, or are there some lower grades? Are the grades consistent over time, or have they gone up (or down) recently?

Depending on your meeting, this might be enough information to tell you that the student is doing alright, and would only take a couple of minutes to review. However, if the student’s grades are not where you would expect them to be, Analytics lets you dive in further. You can use supplemental dashboards to review scores for assignments and other activities, to compare the student’s performance on activities to their peers, or to review the trajectory of their performance over time.

Analytics presents you with the information you need to go into the meeting with a student, and encourages you to dive into that data only as far as you need to to give the student the guidance they need.

Review student feedback on a course

After a course ends, you probably send out a survey to all of the students who took the course to get their feedback. Once the results are collected, someone on your team compiles the results into a spreadsheet and then creates a slide deck to share the results during a course or phase review meeting.

In this case, the time to compile and organize the data means that you can only review these evaluations at a fixed point, likely at the end of the course. That means weeks or months can pass where a problem goes un-noted and unaddressed.

Analytics collects feedback as it comes in and allows you to report on what your students are saying at any time. That means that if you have been hearing ad hoc stories of problems, you can review the feedback and make decisions about if or how to address these problems without having to wait until the end of the course for a course review.

Decision support in medical education

Precision Medical Education is only possible when you have the right information at the right time to make a decision about how to improve your program or to support a struggling student. This article only scratches the surface of the decisions Analytics can support.

Whether you are reviewing the results of a recent exam to find invalid questions, reviewing the performance of students in an early acceptance program, or comparing Step scores with course grades, Acuity Analytics takes the chore out of collecting, reporting, and analyzing the information you need to make decisions.