Documentation systems are used by medical schools and residency programs to record the clinical experiences of their learners. The authors developed a system for their school's (Dartmouth's) multidisciplinary primary care clerkship (family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics) that documents students' clinical and educational experiences and provides feedback designed to enhance clinical training utilizing a timely data-reporting system. The five critical components of the system are (1) a valid, reliable and feasible data-collection instrument; (2) orientation of and ongoing support for student and faculty users; (3) generation and distribution of timely feedback reports to students, preceptors, and clerkship directors; (4) adequate financial and technical support; and (5) a database design that allows for overall evaluation of educational outcomes. The system, whose development began in 1997, generated and distributed approximately 150 peer-comparison reports of clinical teaching experiences to students, preceptors, and course directors during 2001, in formats that are easy to interpret and use to individualize learning. The authors present report formats and annual cost estimate comparisons of paper- and computer-based system development and maintenance, which range from $35,935 to $53,780 for the paper-based system and from $46,820 to $109,308 for the computer-based system. They mention ongoing challenges in components of the system. They conclude that a comprehensive documentation and feedback system provides an essential infrastructure for the evaluation and enhancement of community-based teaching and learning in primary care ambulatory clerkships, whether separate or integrated.
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