Loh MS, Gevitz N, Gilliar WG, Iacono LM, Jung M, Krishnamachari B, Amsler K. Use of a Novel Assay to Measure Pre-to Posttraining Palpatory Skills of First-Year Osteopathic Medical Students. J Am Osteopath Assoc 2015;115(1):32–40. doi: https://doi.org/10.7556/jaoa.2015.005.
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Context: Although palpation is a central skill in the practice of osteopathic medicine, few data are available on factors affecting the development of palpatory skills.
Objective: To use a novel palpatory skills assay to assess the role of training and practice in the development of palpatory skills in an osteopathic medical student population.
Methods: The palpatory skills of first-year osteopathic medical students were assessed using a simple, objective palpation assay that consisted of locating a dime placed under sheets of copy paper at depths of 50, 100, 150, 200, 300, and 400 sheets. Two trials were performed at each depth. The assay was performed at the beginning and at the end of the students' first term. To determine whether practice with the assay impacted participant performance, a third assay was conducted to compare the performance of students who completed the assays at the beginning and at the end of the term with that of students who had never completed the assay.
Results: Sixty-three participants completed the assays at the beginning and end of the term. Fifty-seven of those 63 participants and 192 participants who had not previously completed the assay completed the third assay. A wide variability in number of correct responses per participant was observed at both the beginning (range, 0-11 correct) and the end (range, 2-12 correct) of the term. The mean (SD) number of correct responses per participant increased from the beginning (5.49 [2.78]) to the end (7.17 [2.27]) of the term. Analysis using the generalized estimating equation model demonstrated that both paper depth and experience (ie, beginning vs end of the term) were statistically significant determinants of the number of correct responses (P<.001). The Kaplan-Meier method indicated that the median paper depth at which participants first scored no correct responses increased from 200 sheets (95% CI, 171-229) at the beginning of the term to 300 sheets (95% CI, 232-367) at the end of the term (P<.001). In the third assay, no significant differences were noted in the performance of students who had completed the 2 previous assays vs participants who had not completed the previous assays (P=.136).
Conclusion: Participants' palpatory skills improved from the beginning to the end of the term. The range of participants' palpatory skills at the beginning of the term suggests that other factors in addition to training influenced participants' palpatory skill level. Additional research is needed to identify and investigate factors that influence the development of palpatory skills. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2015;115(1):32-40 doi:10.7556/jaoa.2015.005
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