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Mod Pathol. 2016 Jul;29(7):717-26. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2016.62. Epub 2016 Apr 8.

Identifying and processing the gap between perceived and actual agreement in breast pathology interpretation.

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Family Medicine and Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR, USA.
Pathology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, USA.
Internal Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA, USA.
Family Medicine, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, USA.
Pathology and UVM Cancer Center, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, USA.
Internal Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.


We examined how pathologists' process their perceptions of how their interpretations on diagnoses for breast pathology cases agree with a reference standard. To accomplish this, we created an individualized self-directed continuing medical education program that showed pathologists interpreting breast specimens how their interpretations on a test set compared with a reference diagnosis developed by a consensus panel of experienced breast pathologists. After interpreting a test set of 60 cases, 92 participating pathologists were asked to estimate how their interpretations compared with the standard for benign without atypia, atypia, ductal carcinoma in situ and invasive cancer. We then asked pathologists their thoughts about learning about differences in their perceptions compared with actual agreement. Overall, participants tended to overestimate their agreement with the reference standard, with a mean difference of 5.5% (75.9% actual agreement; 81.4% estimated agreement), especially for atypia and were least likely to overestimate it for invasive breast cancer. Non-academic affiliated pathologists were more likely to more closely estimate their performance relative to academic affiliated pathologists (77.6 vs 48%; P=0.001), whereas participants affiliated with an academic medical center were more likely to underestimate agreement with their diagnoses compared with non-academic affiliated pathologists (40 vs 6%). Before the continuing medical education program, nearly 55% (54.9%) of participants could not estimate whether they would overinterpret the cases or underinterpret them relative to the reference diagnosis. Nearly 80% (79.8%) reported learning new information from this individualized web-based continuing medical education program, and 23.9% of pathologists identified strategies they would change their practice to improve. In conclusion, when evaluating breast pathology specimens, pathologists do a good job of estimating their diagnostic agreement with a reference standard, but for atypia cases, pathologists tend to overestimate diagnostic agreement. Many participants were able to identify ways to improve.

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