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Acta Derm Venereol. 2011 May;91(3):279-83. doi: 10.2340/00015555-1049.

Utility of non-rule-based visual matching as a strategy to allow novices to achieve skin lesion diagnosis.

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Department of Dermatology, University of Edinburgh, Scotland.


Non-analytical reasoning is thought to play a key role in dermatology diagnosis. Considering its potential importance, surprisingly little work has been done to research whether similar identification processes can be supported in non-experts. We describe here a prototype diagnostic support software, which we have used to examine the ability of medical students (at the beginning and end of a dermatology attachment) and lay volunteers, to diagnose 12 images of common skin lesions. Overall, the non-experts using the software had a diagnostic accuracy of 98% (923/936) compared with 33% for the control group (215/648) (Wilcoxon p < 0.0001). We have demonstrated, within the constraints of a simplified clinical model, that novices' diagnostic scores are significantly increased by the use of a structured image database coupled with matching of index and referent images. The novices achieve this high degree of accuracy without any use of explicit definitions of likeness or rule-based strategies.

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