Lowe Art Museum-Miller School Collaboration Spotlighted at MoMA Symposium

A program run by the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and UM’s Lowe Art Museum to teach visual learning skills as a way to decrease future medical diagnostic errors was one of several featured at a recent conference hosted at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Hope Torrents, the Lowe’s School Program Coordinator, and Valerie Bell, D.N.P., assistant professor of clinical nursing at the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Sciences, presented at “The Art of Examination: Art Museum and Medical School Partnerships,” a two-day symposium held in June. Their work, and that from museums including the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Dallas Art Museum, gained attention from more than 130 attendees representing medical schools and museums around the world.

The Miami representatives focused their session on the medical risks of automatically interpreting, rather than “purposefully observing,” patients. They said that the more time a health care practitioner spends examining a patient, the more likely he or she is to notice something that tests might miss.

“Our presentation continued what we’ve been doing since 2010 through ‘The Fine Art of Healthcare’ workshops held each fall and summer,” said Torrents. “The workshops are offered to graduate students in medicine, nursing, physical therapy and psychology, and teach ways to observe, analyze and communicate about works of art.”

Torrents explained that learning to evaluate art aligns with clinical skills such as acute observation, flexible thinking (because art is open to many interpretations, as are diagnoses) and multi-scope perspectives. Approximately 60 second-year D.P.T. students attend a Fine Art of Healthcare workshop each summer. More than 220 medical and nursing students also attended the workshops held during Patient Safety Week over the past three years.

Jennifer Tibangin, a Miller School student in the M.D./M.P.H. track, said attending the “Introduction to the Medical Profession” course taught to first-year students by Torrents was an eye-opener.

“When examining a patient, everyone potentially sees something different,” she said.

Before entering medical school, Tibangin was a physical therapy inpatient technician. That work allowed her to gain insight into a variety of observational and communication styles from diverse patients and professionals.

“I worked with doctors, nurses, physical therapists and many other health care professionals,” she said. “Effective communication is vital. Accurate and thorough observation skills have a positive effect on the interaction and teamwork involved.”

Andrew Stine-Rowe is another M.D./M.P.H. student who took Torrents’ course. Stine-Rowe graduated from MIT with a bachelor’s degree in urban studies and city planning. He appreciates the parallels of art observation and diagnosis skills, and shared his thoughts on an additional benefit of such programs.

“Science is very important in medicine, but so are the soft skills,” he said. “Courses like this might help newer doctors see the big picture, and potentially avoid burning out.”

Errors in the medical field from missed or incorrect diagnoses continue to be a major issue. The World Health Organization reports that 88,000 patients die each year due to misdiagnosis or unintentional prescription overdoses due to communication glitches. Communication also plays an essential role when a patient is in a care transition.

Research has so far shown a potentially dramatic positive influence of using art education to make a difference.

A 2001 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that visual learning workshops improve medical students’ abilities to pick up on important details by almost 10 percent. A more recent study by Harvard Medical School in 2013 found that medical students taking a 12-week course on the subject ranked 23 percent higher in post-test results on their “ability to observe” skills than their peers who did not take the course.

“My long-term goal is to expand upon our visual literacy program, and to use our experiences here to help the field get into all medical schools’ curriculum,” said Torrents. “More and more people are taking an interest. Additional research and more exposure may help the field to find its place.”

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