Purpose Using electrocardiogram (ECG) interpretation as an example of a widely taught diagnostic skill, the authors conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to demonstrate how research evidence on instruction in diagnosis can be synthesized to facilitate improvement of educational activities (instructional modalities, instructional methods, and interpretation approaches), guide the content and specificity of such activities, and provide direction for research. Method The authors searched PubMed/MEDLINE, Embase, Cochrane CENTRAL, PsycInfo, CINAHL, ERIC, and Web of Science databases through February 21, 2020, for empirical investigations of ECG interpretation training enrolling medical students, residents, or practicing physicians. They appraised study quality with the Medical Education Research Study Quality Instrument and pooled standardized mean differences (SMDs) using random effects meta-analysis. Results Of 1,002 articles identified, 59 were included (enrolling 17,251 participants). Among 10 studies comparing instructional modalities, 8 compared computer-assisted and face-to-face instruction, with pooled SMD 0.23 (95% CI, 0.09, 0.36) indicating a small, statistically significant difference favoring computer-assisted instruction. Among 19 studies comparing instructional methods, 5 evaluated individual versus group training (pooled SMD -0.35 favoring group study [95% CI, -0.06, -0.63]), 4 evaluated peer-led versus faculty-led instruction (pooled SMD 0.38 favoring peer instruction [95% CI, 0.01, 0.74]), and 4 evaluated contrasting ECG features (e.g., QRS width) from 2 or more diagnostic categories versus routine examination of features within a single ECG or diagnosis (pooled SMD 0.23 not significantly favoring contrasting features [95% CI, -0.30, 0.76]). Eight studies compared ECG interpretation approaches, with pooled SMD 0.92 (95% CI, 0.48, 1.37) indicating a large, statistically significant effect favoring more systematic interpretation approaches. Conclusions Some instructional interventions appear to improve learning in ECG interpretation; however, many evidence-based instructional strategies are insufficiently investigated. The findings may have implications for future research and design of training to improve skills in ECG interpretation and other types of visual diagnosis.
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