Development and Evaluation of an Objective Tympanic Membrane Visualization Assessment Technique


Division of Pediatric Otolaryngology, Advocate Children's Hospital


OBJECTIVES: To introduce an inexpensive method for objectively evaluating otoscopic visualization of the tympanic membrane wherein learners match what they visualize in standardized patients to tympanic membrane photographs.

METHODS: Two standardized patients had photographs taken of their tympanic membranes using a commercially-available digital otoscope. First- and third-year medical students were asked to perform an otoscopic examination on each patient using a conventional handheld otoscope and to match what they saw with the correct tympanic membrane image among distractor photographs belonging to other patients. The ability of students to match the standardized patients' tympanic membrane to the correct photographs was assessed before and after a didactic training session. These measurements were compared between the two cohort groups for construct validity.

RESULTS: Fifty-one first-year medical students (with no previous otoscopy experience) and 44 third-year medical students (with otoscopy experience from completing pediatric and family medicine clinical clerkships) were recruited to voluntarily participate in this study. At baseline, a larger percentage of third-year students correctly matched both tympanic membranes compared to first-year students (27% vs 8%, P < .01). After otoscopy training, correct matching of both tympanic membranes significantly improved among both first-year students (8-31%, P < .01) and third-year students (27-54%, P < .01).

CONCLUSION: The use of tympanic membrane photographs from standardized patients provides a novel technique for objectively assessing proficiency in otoscopic visualization of the middle ear. The concept is low cost, uses live patients, and can be easily implemented in pre-clinical instruction and beyond.

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