Harvard reports 40% more observations after art observation course

Published On: Apr 26 2013 05:22:00 PM HST

"I would imagine they are very close," says one senior medical student looking at a statue of two figures intertwined.

It's a slow pace for a group of young doctors as they weave through the Honolulu Museum of Arts, pondering the details of a piece of art.

"Any ideas on what you're seeing?" asked Dr. Steve Miller of another group of students.

"She has this look on her face like she's showing off her child," said senior University of Hawaii medical student Meredith Wagner.

UH is now requiring that its medical school seniors take a trip to the museum to study the art of observation.

"I was a little skeptical at first," said Wagner.

Since 2010, close to 200 medical students and doctors have participated in the program, from a one-hour session, to a five-day course.

Today, nearly all of the country's best medical schools include "art observation" courses.

"Most doctors rely on the side of their brain that gives them answers quickly. They want to be efficient. I think when that happens, they're forgetting the human side of things, that people need to have a connection," said Betsy Robb, who is the museum's director of tours programs.

"We found, over the years, by and large, the people that don't make it in both medicine and administration don't really read human situations well," said Miller, who is a retired ophthalmologist.

The Institute of Medicine reports some 98,000 people die every year due to preventable medical errors.

Harvard University found nearly 40 percent of its students who took the "Training the Eye" course made more clinical observations than those who did not, resulting in fewer tests and fewer mistakes.

"It's important to be that careful about observation, because you might find that disease if you take a little while," said Miller to his group of students.

"It actually applies a lot to what we do and how we see patients," said Miller.

The course has proved to be so successful, doctors from Straub, Queens and Hawaii Pacific Health have all participated.

Instructors said discussing art helps physicians be more open and expressive with their patients and colleagues, as well as be more open to different opinions about a diagnosis.


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