Online skin cancer course improves docs’ diagnostic skills

November 12, 2013

A brief, online skin cancer course improved the diagnostic skills of primary care physicians, without impacting dermatology referrals, a recent study suggests.

 

A brief, online skin cancer course improved the diagnostic skills of primary care physicians, without impacting dermatology referrals, a recent study suggests.

Researchers with Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, created a before-and-after evaluation of a one- to two-hour online course on skin cancer detection for primary care physicians (PCPs), according to the study. Fifty-four practicing PCPs volunteered to participate in the course in June 2011, and investigators assessed their ability to diagnose and manage skin cancers in a pre-test, immediate post-test and six months post-test.

Investigators assessed the impact of the online course on practice patterns by tracking participants’ patient panels for dermatology referrals and skin biopsies for six months after the course compared to the same period a year later. The Web-based course covered melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, plus other benign lesions crucial to differential diagnosis of skin cancers.

Among the participants, 59 percent reported receiving skin cancer education during their residency, but only 15 percent reported that education since beginning their practice. The study suggested the online course improved PCPs’ ability to diagnose and manage skin lesions by nearly 30 percent. Participants showed greater improvement with benign skin lesions - immediate post-test scores improved by about 12 percentage points for diagnosis and by 20 points for management.

“The course was particularly effective among participants who reported no previous skin cancer education and those whose pretest scores were in the lower quartile,” the study states. “Improvement was still evident six months after taking the course.”

Study authors noted PCPs skills at diagnosing skin lesions is important because patients often go to those doctors with questions or concerns about skin conditions.

“A brief, Web-based skin cancer course improved the diagnostic and management skills of practicing PCPs, with improvement still seen at six months, without negative effects on dermatology referrals or visits or skin cancer diagnoses,” study authors concluded.

The findings were published in the November-December issue of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.