Piers Howe and Frank Gaillard win a University of Melbourne Engagement Initiative Grant

Dr Piers Howe (MSPS) and Frank Gaillard (Royal Melbourne Hospital) have won a 2015 University of Melbourne Engagement Initiative Grant for their project Perceptual Learning: A Better Way to Train Radiologists.

The researchers argue that there is potentially a better way of training radiologists. Currently, radiologists are trained to diagnose medical images in a primarily rule-based fashion. When shown an image such as an X-ray, they are trained to follow a set of rules and procedures to reach their diagnosis. However some aspects of visual knowledge are difficult to express verbally and thus hard to learn via a rule-based training regime. For example, most of us have little difficulty in recognising a close friend, even though we may have trouble describing their visual appearance. Similarly, a radiologist may have little troubling making a diagnosis from an X-ray, even though he may find it hard to verbally justify the diagnosis.

The researchers argue that it is easiest to learn such categories (i.e. ones that are hard to describe verbally) via perceptual learning. In the perceptual learning training technique, observers do not attempt to learn a set of diagnostic rules. Instead, they are shown a large number of images and attempt to categorize each image. By getting immediate feedback on their guesses they rapidly learn to correctly categorise the images, even if they are unable to verbally describe how they perform these categorizations.

The purpose of their research project is to evaluate the effectiveness of perceptual learning as a potential training method for radiologists.