Background: The role of basic science knowledge in clinical diagnosis is unclear. There has been no experimental demonstration of its value in helping students recall and organize clinical information. This study examines how causal knowledge may lead to better recall and diagnostic skill over time.
Method: Undergraduate medical students learned either four neurological or rheumatic disorders. One group learned a basic science explanation for the symptoms. The other learned epidemiological information. Both were then tested with the same set of clinical cases immediately after learning and one week later.
Results: On immediate test, there was no difference in accuracy (70% for both groups). However, one week later, performance in the epidemiology group dropped to 51%; the basic science group only dropped to 62%.
Conclusions: Basic science knowledge relating causal knowledge to disease symptoms can improve diagnostic accuracy after a delay.