BACKGROUND: Recent theories on adult learning recommend that learning is situated in real-life contexts. Learning is considered a continuous process in which every new experience builds on, and integrates with, previously accumulated experiences. Reviewing and reflecting on patient cases is in line with this learning approach. There has, however, been remarkably little research into how patient cases might be applied in professional education. The purpose of this article is to present family physicians' perceptions of the learning process initiated by reviewing patient cases.
METHODS: Thirteen family physicians, who had all participated in a large project on cancer diagnosis in family practice (the CAP-project), currently carried out at the Research Unit for General Practice, University of Aarhus were interviewed on their experiences of reviewing patient cases. In the CAP-project family physicians (n = 467, 81%) in the County of Aarhus (640 000 inhabitants) completed 2,212 (83%) detailed questionnaires on all newly diagnosed patients with cancer encountered in their practices during a one year period (2004-2005). In order to complete the questionnaire the family physicians were required to perform a systematic case review of each patient: they had to consult their records to provide dates of symptom-presentation, investigations and treatments initiated, and reflect on previous encounters with the patients to give detailed information on his/hers knowledge of the patients' care seeking behaviour, mental health and risk factors.The purpose of this article is to present indebt interview-data on family physicians' perceptions of the learning process initiated by reviewing patient cases, and their evaluations of using patient case reviews as a learning method in family practice.
RESULTS: The process of reflection initiated by reviewing patient cases enabled family physicians to reconsider their clinical work procedures which potentially supported the transition from individual competence to personal capability. According to the physicians, they were not only able to identify needed changes, some reported that they were able to transform these ideas into action and do things more effectively. According to our data this transition takes place, because the learning processes initiated were based on real life experiences which equally initiated reflections on what to improve, as well as how to improve their work.
CONCLUSION: Patient case reviews initiate reflective processes providing feedback about performance in real life situations. Family physicians are in favour of patient case reviews as a learning method, because it embraces the complexities they encounter in their daily practice and is based on personal experiences.