Purpose: Block ambulatory rotations and longitudinal ambulatory care experiences are now common in U.S. medical schools, but little is known about their efficacy. Through a structured review of the medical literature from 1966 through March 2000, the authors summarize the characteristics of, the evidence for, and the evaluation of longitudinal ambulatory care rotations.
Method: The authors searched Medline using the terms "outpatients," "continuity of patient care," "ambulatory care," "mentors," "preceptorship," "graduate medical education," "curriculum," and "clinical clerkship" cross-matched to "medical students" and "internship and residency" for literature published from 1966 through March 2000. They narrowed the list to only articles containing empirical outcome data focusing on medical students' experiences in longitudinal ambulatory care rotations. Each study was scored to assess its strengths and weaknesses.
Results: Seven articles met the search criteria. The articles identified the benefits of longitudinal ambulatory care experiences, including developing effective patient interactions and understanding chronic diseases. There were little or no differences in the students' overall knowledge acquisition when those with longitudinal experiences were compared with those in block rotations.
Discussion: Although longitudinal ambulatory care experiences are now common in medical schools, evidence supporting their widespread implementation is sparse. Few studies employ rigorous methods to evaluate educational outcomes. Research to identify benefits and costs, improve the quality and consistency of the students' experiences, and develop other innovative ways of teaching and learning ambulatory care is needed.