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Best doctors learn from mistakes

BLACKSBURG, Va., Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Doctors who learn from both their successes and failures performed best in tests of their ability to make appropriate treatment choices, U.S. researchers say.

Study leader Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, tested 35 experienced physicians in a series of virtual patient encounters. The results were measured both in terms of the physicians' ability to choose the right treatment and by functional magnetic resonance imaging, a neuroimaging technique that detects the regions of the brain that are engaged in a particular activity.

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The fMRI imaging reveals characteristic patterns for high performers and low performers -- providing evidence that better performance was correlated with increased attention to failed treatments, Montague said.

The study, published online in the journal PLoS ONE, found the doctors who performed best were those who learned from both their successes and failures, rather than focusing just on the successful outcomes.

"These findings underscore the dangers of disregarding past failures when making high-stakes decisions," Montague said in a statement. "'Success-chasing' not only can lead doctors to make flawed decisions in diagnosing and treating patients, but it can also distort the thinking of other high-stakes decision-makers, such as military and political strategists, stock market investors and venture capitalists."

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