Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Three New Articles

Ritenbaugh C, Nichter M, Kelly KL, et al. Developing a Patient-Centered Outcome Measure for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Therapies I: Defining Content and Format. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2011, 11:135


Background: Patients receiving complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies often report shifts in well-being that go beyond resolution of the original presenting symptoms. We undertook a research program to develop and evaluate a patient-centered outcome measure to assess the multidimensional impacts of CAM therapies, utilizing a novel mixed methods approach that relied upon techniques from the fields of anthropology and psychometrics. This tool would have broad applicability, both for CAM practitioners to measure shifts in patients' states following treatments, and conventional clinical trial researchers needing validated outcome measures. The US Food and Drug Administration has highlighted the importance of valid and reliable measurement of patient-reported outcomes in the evaluation of conventional medical products. Here we describe Phase I of our research program, the iterative process of content identification, item development and refinement, and response format selection. Cognitive interviews and psychometric evaluation are reported separately.
Methods: From a database of patient interviews (n=177) from six diverse CAM studies, 106 interviews were identified for secondary analysis in which individuals spontaneously discussed unexpected changes associated with CAM. Using ATLAS.ti, we identified common themes and language to inform questionnaire item content and wording. Respondents' language was often richly textured, but item development required a stripping down of language to extract essential meaning and minimize potential comprehension barriers across populations. Through an evocative card sort interview process, we identified those items most widely applicable and covering standard psychometric domains. We developed, pilot-tested, and refined the format, yielding a questionnaire for cognitive interviews and psychometric evaluation.
Results: The resulting questionnaire contained 18 items, in visual analog scale format, in which each line was anchored by the positive and negative extremes relevant to the experiential domain. Because of frequent informant allusions to response set shifts from before to after CAM therapies, we chose a retrospective pretest format. Items cover physical, emotional, cognitive, social, spiritual, and whole person domains.
Conclusions: This paper reports the success of a novel approach to the development of outcome instruments, in which items are extracted from patients' words instead of being distilled from pre-existing theory. The resulting instrument, focused on measuring shifts in patients' perceptions of health and well-being along pre-specified axes, is undergoing continued testing, and is available for use by cooperating investigators.

Zhang J, Peterson RF, Ozolins IZ. Student approaches for learning in medicine: What does it tell us about the informal curriculum? BMC Medical Education 2011, 11:87 doi:10.1186/1472-6920-11-87

Background: It has long been acknowledged that medical students frequently focus their learning on that which will enable them to pass examinations, and that they use a range of study approaches and resources in preparing for their examinations. A recent qualitative study identified that in addition to the formal curriculum, students are using a range of resources and study strategies which could be attributed to the informal curriculum. What is not clearly established is the extent to which these informal learning resources and strategies are utilized by medical students. The aim of this study was to establish the extent to which students in a graduate-entry medical program use various learning approaches to assist their learning and preparation for examinations, apart from those resources offered as part of the formal curriculum.
Methods: A validated survey instrument was administered to 522 medical students. Factor analysis and internal consistence, descriptive analysis and comparisons with demographic variables were completed. The factor analysis identified eight scales with acceptable levels of internal consistency with an alpha coefficient between 0.72 and 0.96.
Results: Nearly 80% of the students reported that they were overwhelmed by the amount of work that was perceived necessary to complete the formal curriculum, with 74.3% believing that the informal learning approaches helped them pass the examinations. 61.3% believed that they prepared them to be good doctors. A variety of informal learning activities utilized by students included using past student notes (85.8%) and PBL tutor guides (62.7%), and being part of self-organised study groups (62.6%), and peer-led tutorials (60.2%). Almost all students accessed the formal school resources for at least 10% of their study time. Students in the first year of the program were more likely to rely on the formal curriculum resources compared to those of Year 2 (p = 0.008).
Conclusions: Curriculum planners should examine the level of use of informal learning activities in their schools, and investigate whether this is to enhance student progress, a result of perceived weakness in the delivery and effectiveness of formal resources, or to overcome anxiety about the volume of work expected by medical programs.

Tschudi-Madsen H, Kjelsdberg M, Natvig B et al. A strong association between non-musculoskeletal symptoms and musculoskeletal pain symptoms: results from a population study. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2011, 12:285 doi:10.1186/1471-2474-12-285


Background: There is a lack of knowledge about the pattern of symptom reporting in the general population as most research focuses on specific diseases or symptoms. The number of musculoskeletal pain sites is a strong predictor for disability pensioning and, hence, is considered to be an important dimension in symptom reporting. The simple method of counting symptoms might also be applicable to non-musculoskeletal symptoms, rendering further dimensions in describing individual and public health. In a general population, we aimed to explore the association between self-reported non-musculoskeletal symptoms and the number of pain sites.
Methods: With a cross-sectional design, the Standardised Nordic Questionnaire and the Subjective Health Complaints Inventory were used to record pain at ten different body sites and 13 non-musculoskeletal symptoms, respectively, among seven age groups in Ullensaker, Norway (n = 3,227).
Results: Results showed a strong, almost linear relationship between the number of non-musculoskeletal symptoms and the number of pain sites (r = 0.55). The number and type of non-musculoskeletal symptoms had an almost equal explanatory power in the number of pain sites reported (27.1% vs. 28.2%).
Conclusion: The linear association between the number of non-musculoskeletal and musculoskeletal symptoms might indicate that the symptoms share common characteristics and even common underlying causal factors. The total burden of symptoms as determined by the number of symptoms reported might be an interesting generic indicator of health and well-being, as well as present and future functioning. Research on symptom reporting might also be an alternative pathway to describe and, possibly, understand the medically unexplained multisymptom conditions.

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