Contextualizing care is the process of adapting research evidence to patient life context. The failure to do so, when it results in a care plan that is not likely to achieve its intended aim, is a contextual error. There is substantial evidence that contextual errors are common, adversely affect patient outcomes and health care costs, and are preventable. This evidence comes from over 5000 mostly incognito recordings of physician-patient encounters over a range of practice settings that have been analyzed along with the medical records of each encounter utilizing a specialized coding algorithm. Educational and practice improvement interventions have been tested at the medical student, resident, and attending level, each with evidence of benefits and limitations. The author argues that contextualizing care is an essential clinician competency and proposes an evidence-informed strategy for building and reinforcing the requisite skills across the continuum of medical education and professional development.
Keywords: Clinical decision making; Competency; Contextual error; Contextualizing care; Medical education; Patient-centered care.
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